The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) recently published some startling statistics: more than 80,000 people in America died of the flu in the winter of 2017-2018, the highest number seen in over a decade. While this information is scary, it’s more important as an informative statement: one that recognizes the consequences of not taking proper steps to reduce chances of transmitting the flu. The estimates were released in an attempt to get more Americans vaccinated; less than half of America got vaccinated two flu seasons ago. Although 90 percent of last year’s flu victims were over the age of 65, the sickness still managed to kill 180 children and teenagers, which is still a record high count according to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC).
Despite the astounding numbers, the flu season that recently passed was considered average, which leads to the question of how it managed to affect more people. The answer is mixed: the effectiveness of last year’s vaccine, in a report from the CDC, was estimated to be only around 40 percent. Such a number might further fuel the anti-vaccination movement that we’ve seen grow recently, spurred on by even our own president, who spoke about favoring a slower process of vaccination for kids. Additionally, a spike in the number of people opting out of flu vaccines can explain the deadliness of the recent season.
Amongst the “anti-vaxxer” movement, the reasons for choosing to not get vaccinated range from religious and philosophical to citing a long-disproven report that links vaccines to autism. Even this past summer, a nurse made headlines after announcing her anti-vaccine stance, presenting a concern for how workers in the medical field can manage to cast their doubts on vaccination.
Getting back into the flu shot specifically, there’s already plenty of skepticism surrounding this one form of vaccination alone. After all, people who choose to opt out of the flu shot commonly blame the fact that the vaccination isn’t always effective — which is true, but it’s still better than not getting vaccinated at all. What this argument doesn’t take into consideration, however, is that there’s a difficulty in creating these vaccines that may or may not work for everyone, and it’s due to the tricky way that flu viruses are constantly mutating. In addition to the slightly unpredictable nature of this virus, it takes up to six months to create the vaccinations and ship them off to medical providers. Given the long and complicated production process of vaccines, the way they are generally created is based off of public agencies trying to predict which specific strains of the flu will make an appearance in the oncoming flu season. And despite how frustrating it may seem at taking a gamble towards a vaccine may not protect you, there are little to no downsides at getting vaccinated. Nevertheless, it still offers the chance of being immunized against the flu, something that isn’t offered to those who choose to not get vaccinated at all.
Even after making the predictions based off of clinical research and looking into the types of strains that showed up in the years prior, it typically takes up to two weeks for the vaccines to start working, which is why experts believe it’s better to get vaccinated in the fall, right before flu season kicks off towards the end of fall or beginning of winter. So to the anti-vaxxers who believe the misconception that the flu shot causes the flu, there are two answers to how catching the flu after vaccination is still possible: one can fall ill within the interim period between getting the flu shot and the vaccination starting to work, or the vaccination could be fighting a different strain of the flu that’s not infecting the body.
Overall, in the last year, despite what seems like a low effectiveness rate, the flu shot still managed to cut back on a person’s risk of having to go to the doctor’s office by 40 percent. Last year’s vaccine had an adverse effect on people in high-risk groups (elderly and children), but in general, doctors are urging anyone ages 6 months and up to get a flu vaccine in order to decrease the risks of transmission. Last year’s vaccine was unable to prevent the certain strain that took 80,000 Americans, but despite the apparent low rates of effectiveness, a flu shot contains the chance of preventing hospitalization and death — common complications of a simple flu.