Don't become a victim of the flu
There were 180 confirmed deaths of children younger than 18 during the 2017-2018 flu season, of which 74 percent were not vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That was the highest reported death rate in recent years, excluding the pandemic of 2009, when 358 pediatric deaths were reported.
CDC estimates 900,000 people were hospitalized and more than 80,000 died of the flu last season. The disease is particularly deadly for people 65 and older, with estimates of 70-90 percent of flu deaths in recent years occurring in this age group.
Effectiveness of vaccines generally ranges from 40-60 percent. Studies of varying sizes show effectiveness hit a low of 10 percent in 2004-2005 season to a high of 60 percent in 2010-2011 season.
This is because the various strains of flu change from year to year and vaccines are designed to protect against three or four strains. A variety of vaccines are available, including a high-dose version designed for people 65 and older, a live attenuated virus nasal spray available for people ages 2-49, and a cell-based vaccine for people who have severe allergic reactions to eggs (most flu vaccines are grown in eggs).
Vaccination is important for the health of all of us, said Kathleen Kohut, RN, director of infection prevention at Cape Cod Healthcare. She said even if you don’t feel the need to protect yourself or your children against the flu, consider the risk you pose to those most susceptible to disease, such as the very young, older people and those with weak immune systems, for whom a case of the flu could have dire consequences.
“Everybody needs it,” she said. “I really like the comment that it isn’t about you, it’s about your community.”
Kohut said she recently saw a child who was bald, an apparent cancer patient, being wheeled through a crowded airport.
“I wondered how many people exposed that child to flu,” she said, adding that people may unknowingly spread the flu because they shed the virus two days before getting ill with symptoms.
Many Americans have become desensitized to the large numbers of older people who die of flu-related complications, Kohut said. While the flu vaccine doesn’t provide perfect protection, it’s the best tool we have to limit this disease that kills tens of thousands annually, she said.
“I think people have very high expectations of our science. People expect 100 percent immunity,” she said. “We don’t get 100 percent immunity for anything.”
Who should get vaccinated?
According to the CDC, nearly everyone from age 6 months and older, especially people at high risk of severe flu complications, such as pneumonia. These include children younger than 5, adults 65 or older, pregnant women, nursing home residents, caregivers and healthcare professionals, native Americans and people with certain medical conditions, including asthma and lung conditions, diabetes, heart disease, kidney or liver disorders, extreme obesity and weakened immune systems (such as cancer patients or people with HIV).
Who should not get vaccinated?
Children younger than 6 months and anyone with a deadly allergic reaction to vaccine ingredients. People who have allergies to eggs, antibiotics or other ingredients, or have had Guillain-Barre Syndrome, should talk to their doctor about whether to get vaccinated and which vaccine to use.