TIP Talk!


Tuesday November 29, 2016

Flu is a killer. More of us should be fighting it.

Christmas

It’s too easy to forget about the importance of flu shots. Even children, despite their regular checkups and schedules of vaccinations, aren’t nearly as likely to get their vaccinations as they should be. Immunization against influenza isn’t required to attend school, and unlike other vaccinations, the flu shot has to be repeated every year; that means it’s up to attentive parents to get the job done.

Even in this era of disease control and sophisticated medical treatment, influenza is a deadly danger. From 2007 to 2015, it killed 158 children and teens in Texas alone, according to the state's Department of State Health Services. That far outweighs the number of deaths in the state from whooping cough and meningococcal disease combined.

Nationwide, for all age groups, flu kills an average of 23,000 Americans each year, more than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Flu season has just gotten started but hasn’t reached its peak yet; that means this is the ideal time to protect people of (almost) all ages with a flu shot. That’s why we at The Immunization Partnership will be reminding our supporters and readers on social media every day next week during National Influenza Vaccination Week.

Everyone ages 6 months and older should get the flu vaccine, including pregnant women. Not only is the shot safe for expectant mothers, but it provides some protection against flu for their newborns for up to four months after birth. The babies of women vaccinated during pregnancy are about one-third less likely to be stricken with flu, the CDC says.

Yet during last year’s flu season, less than half of Texans 6 months and older received their flu vaccines. Children had higher vaccination rates than adults, with 62 percent of those younger at 18 years old receiving the vaccine. But that’s not even close to what it could and should be, and this year presents an extra challenge for parents: The nasal flu mist, which allowed immunization without the needles, was found to be substantially less effective than the injection in recent years. The CDC is recommending against its use this year, which leaves parents trying to overcome their children’s fear factor. Luckily, there are proven ways to make getting shots less scary and more comfortable for kids.

One reason people give for avoiding their flu shots is that the vaccine isn’t 100% effective due to sometimes mismatches between the vaccine and circulating strains. There are many flu strains, but due to limits on vaccine technology each year the vaccine protects against only three or four. The World Health Organization oversees a process of surveillance and studies in order to recommend which strains should be included in that year’s vaccines, a decision that has to be made long before the next flu season, in order to allow enough time to manufacture and test the vaccines. In the time it takes to bring a vaccine to market and such large quantities, the dominant influenza strains could change with no time to make a new vaccine.

The possibility of a less-effective flu shot shouldn’t stop anyone from getting it. Not only is there no way to predict--it could well end up being highly effective--but the flu vaccine prevents death and serious illness even in years with imperfect matches. During the 2014-2015 flu season, the vaccine was found to be about 23 percent effective, a rather lackluster figure until you look at all the great work it did: It prevented an estimated 1.9 million illnesses and kept 67,000 people out of the hospital. 

Just imagine all the lives and illness saved if most of the people who are good candidates for the flu shot made it a top priority this (and every) flu season.

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