The COVID-19 vaccine has been grabbing all the headlines this past year — and rightfully so. COVID-19 vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration are certifiably safe, effective, accessible and free. However, a vaccine that has been getting less press is also of enormous importance — the flu shot.
During the 2019-2020 flu season, only 51.8% of people in the United States six months and older received a flu vaccine. The flu season prior, slightly less than half of Americans got their flu shot. As Americans, we all have a responsibility to do better at getting our flu shots every year, and that includes me.
During the 2018-2019 flu season, I did not get my flu shot. I probably thought that because the vast majority of those who get seriously ill or die of the flu are elderly or under the age of five, because I was young and healthy I did not need to worry.
I did not contract influenza that year, but my decision was irresponsible nonetheless. I had every chance to walk into my doctor’s office or a Walgreens. I am covered under health insurance that would have paid for the whole thing, and I still chose not to get it. I had no good reason not to get the flu shot — getting it had simply slipped my mind.
I suspect this is true for the many other Americans who do not get the flu shot each year. There is no malice, simply carelessness.
This is especially true for the 18-49 age demographic, which has the lowest flu vaccination coverage rate of any eligible age group. For example, during the 2019-2020 flu season, only 38.4%of adults got the flu shot. As young people, we have to be better than that.
We share a collective responsibility as U.S. adults to look after and protect one another, and that includes the health and wellbeing of everyone in our society. Getting the flu shot should be considered part of our moral and civic duties. But getting the flu shot is not just about obligations to those around us, it also has a high likelihood of benefitting ourselves as individuals.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that during the 2019-2020 flu season, the flu shot helped prevent 7.5 million illnesses, 3.7 million medical visits, 105,000 hospitalizations and 6,300 deaths associated with influenza.
All that prevention occurred with only about half of Americans getting the vaccine. The numbers could have been doubly as impressive if all Americans had received the vaccine.
And now that we have seen the devastation a respiratory disease like COVID-19 can cause without a vaccine, we should renew a commitment to getting a vaccine for other diseases like influenza, which has killed an estimated 342,000 Americans since 2010.
The side effects of the flu shot are minor — headache, muscle aches, fever, fatigue, soreness and upset stomach. Serious side effects from the vaccine are very uncommon, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The flu vaccine varies in effectiveness from year-to-year but is nevertheless the best option for preventing influenza and the illnesses, complications and deaths it can cause.
For everyone’s sake, including yourself, get the flu shot this year and every year hereafter. It is easy to get complacent about something like the flu, which feels relatively unthreatening for young, healthy people. However, the flu remains a dangerous disease that has killed an average of 30,000 Americans over the past decade.
Boston University Student Health Services is hosting an immunization clinic at the Fitness and Recreation Center’s 3-Court Gym Entrance Across from 25 Buick Street on Oct. 19 and Oct. 20, which will include the flu vaccine. There will be similar immunization clinics through BU SHS throughout November.
If you prefer the convenience of getting a flu shot while you shop, that is also an option. CVS and Walgreens often offer the flu shot and so do stores like Target if they have a pharmacy.
Getting a flu shot is the most minor inconvenience when compared to the massive benefits to both yourself and your community of getting that vaccine. So before this holiday season, make an appointment, go to an immunization clinic or walk into a pharmacy to get your flu shot.