By Mark Leenay, M.D.
Anyone who has suffered from the flu will likely remember it as a miserable experience – fever, chills, aches, cough and fatigue – and one that they don’t want to repeat.
With the beginning of fall also comes the official start of the flu season. Flu occurs in the US throughout the year but picks up in late October, peaks in February and the season can last through May. September and October are the ideal times to get a flu vaccine in order to reduce your risk of falling ill and missing out on work, important life activities or the holiday season.
In fact, I just had mine a couple of weeks ago, an annual health habit I highly encourage, especially given the severity of past flu seasons.
Vaccinations: An important first line of defense
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported nearly 43 million cases of the flu in the 2018-19 season, causing nearly 650,000 flu-related hospitalizations and 62,000 flu-related deaths. While every flu season is different, it’s imperative to protect yourself and your family with a flu vaccination.
While you may have received a vaccine last year and wonder why it’s important to have another one, flu vaccines are updated annually to better match the viruses circulating each season. The Mayo Clinic says that once vaccinated, immune systems produce important antibodies that protect us from the viruses included in the vaccine. Since antibody levels may decline over time, it’s important to get the shot each year.
There are individuals, however, who may need special precautions, such as those with severe egg allergies. Check with your doctor if you have never had the vaccine.
Do flu vaccines actually work?
According to the CDC, studies show that the flu vaccine reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60% among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine. The CDC also says that, in general, current flu vaccines tend to work best against influenza B and influenza A(H1N1) viruses and offer lower protection against influenza A(H3N2) viruses.
No one enjoys getting a shot, but the short-term discomfort outweighs the potential for severe illness or, in the worst case, death. And, if not just for yourself, then do it for your loved ones. Ask your physician for the vaccination; go to any pharmacy, supermarket or big-box store where the shot is offered; or visit vaccinefinder.org.
Don’t become another flu statistic. Get your flu vaccine today.
Dr. Mark Leenay is WellCare’s Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer.