You're young, you're healthy, your kids are young and healthy. Even if you would get the flu, you're strong enough to fight it. Hey! You might even get to take a few days off from work! So why do you need a flu shot?
In more recent years, infectious diseases experts have expanded their recommendations about who needs a flu shot, and that may well include you and your children. What we don’t realize is that by ignoring their advice, we may actually cause someone else, even a loved one, to get sick enough to die from influenza.
The Concept of "Herd Immunity"
Most of us believe we get immunized to protect ourselves from illness. But that’s only part of the reason. Just as important is the additional protection that comes from everyone around us being vaccinated, too. As long as we have all received the vaccine, then the germ can’t gain a foothold to make us sick.
Doctors and public health officials call this “herd immunity.” Everyone in the population who has been immunized is protected not just by getting the vaccine themselves, but by the fact that those who they come in contact with have been immunized, too.
Who Can Die from the Flu?
Those who are most at risk of dying from influenza are infants, older adults and those with weakened immune systems. They aren't strong or healthy enough to combat the germs. So, in past years, most of those who were considered at-risk, were vaccinated against the flu. Further, healthcare workers who treated those populations would be immunized, too.
Each year, despite that protection, thousands would get sick and die from the flu anyway.
It didn’t take long to figure out that those who died because they were too weak to fight the flu, despite the fact they had been immunized, had been exposed to flu by other, unvaccinated members of their “herd."
Those who were not vaccinated could be carriers, even when they had no symptoms or never got sick. Adult children, grandchildren, caregivers, siblings, friends and neighbors, all who thought they were healthy, were unintentionally passing on flu germs and causing those deaths.
The New Flu Vaccine Recommendations
As a result, flu immunization recommendations have now expanded. As of Fall 2008, according to the CDC, they include:
- Children aged 6 months up to their 19th birthday
- Pregnant women
- People 50 years of age and older
- People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions such as spinal cord injury, liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease, HIV, COPD or others
- People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:
- Health care workers
- Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu
- Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)
The CDC also provides a list of people who should not receive the flu vaccine until they get the go-ahead from their physicians.
Now that you understand why it's important for all of us to protect not just ourselves, but our loved ones, too, I hope you'll take the steps needed to get your flu shots, and to make sure your children have been immunized, too.
The flu vaccine is simple, quick and inexpensive. Call your doctor or attend a flu clinic. Depending on your age or other factors, you may be given a shot, or you may be eligible to use the easily inhaled flu mist.