Americans aren’t too vigilant about getting flu shots. During the 2016-17 influenza season, the vaccination rate for adults was just 48.6 percent, far below the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s goal of 70 percent coverage. Parents tend to be a little better with kids—in 2016, the rate for children aged 6 to 23 months was 76.3 percent—but overall, we tend to meet each flu season with apathy.
That might be an especially bad idea this year. Here’s why.
In 2017-18, the flu hospitalized 900,000 people, the highest number in modern history. About 80,000 people died of flu, the most in decades. A particularly virulent strain, H3N2, was partly to blame. Vaccines were effective in roughly one out of four people infected with that specific virus and 40 percent effective overall. We also have more people aging into a higher-risk category. Public health experts agree the flu will continue to be a worthy adversary, with another cascade of potentially preventable serious illness or death this year.
To minimize your chances of getting sick, the advice is unanimous: Get a flu shot. Because it takes your body up to two weeks to create an immune response, getting a shot before Halloween is ideal. While they’re not perfect and can’t guarantee immunity, the shot's benefits are still considerable. The chances that you’ll avoid becoming ill are significantly higher. You’re also far less likely to spread the virus to others. And if you do develop symptoms, you’re less likely to develop complications from pneumonia. If you’re pregnant, the shot will assist your already overtaxed immune system as well as provide protection for your child after birth.
Above all, don't try to talk yourself out of it. In a 2015 poll conducted by National Public Radio (NPR) and Truven Health Analytics, roughly half of respondents believed they were healthy enough to fight the virus on their own. Some were concerned about side effects (such as mild soreness at the injection site, which usually lasts only a day or two) or that the shot itself could be infectious. (It isn't.)
The vaccine isn’t the only preventative step. It’s vital to get enough sleep to keep your immune system strong. The CDC also recommends washing your hands frequently and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth after coming into contact with potentially contaminated surfaces.