The Case for the Annual Flu Vaccine

Every autumn health care experts urge almost everyone to get an annual influenza (flu) vaccine. Although we often hear announcements through the media encouraging us to get a flu shot, there is always an undercurrent of doubt, such as “will the flu vaccine make me sick?  Does it really work?”

Every year people wonder about getting the flu vaccine, and many ultimately decide against it. I take care of patients during flu season and see many patients hospitalized because of the flu or its consequences. While some had a flu vaccine; the majority did not. The reasons for not getting a flu vaccine vary: “I never get the flu”; “The flu shot made me sick”; “I was too busy.” Most patients get the flu vaccine before they go home, especially after they learn that the flu is the reason they got so sick.

Here are some facts, first about the flu, then about the flu vaccine.

Approximately 8 percent of the U.S. population gets sick from the flu each season. That is the equivalent of approximately 60,000-220,000 people getting sick from the flu every season in the greater Indianapolis area (about two million people).

Children are most likely to get sick from flu. However, severe illness and complications are more likely to occur in people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, and children younger than 5 years.

The first and most important step in preventing the flu is to get a flu vaccine each year. Questions about the flu vaccine include:

Is the flu vaccine 100 percent effective in preventing the flu? No.
Does the flu vaccine reduce the chance that you will get a serious flu infection? Yes!

Getting vaccinated yourself may also protect people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people and people with certain chronic health conditions.
Receiving the flu vaccine during pregnancy can protect the baby after birth from flu infection for several months. People who live with or care for infants should be vaccinated

Because the flu is constantly changing, flu vaccine effectiveness changes each year. Even if the flu vaccine were only 30 percent effective, given how common the flu is, it would still prevent tens of thousands of infections in the greater Indianapolis area if everyone got vaccinated.  But more importantly, flu vaccine protects you from the worst forms of the flu. In other words, you may still get the flu after a flu vaccine, but you probably would have been a lot sicker without the vaccine.

The bottom line is everyone six months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every year before flu activity begins, and the CDC recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October.

By Dr. Amy Beth Kressel
Infectious disease specialist with Eskenazi Health

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