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Why Get a Flu Shot? Why Not?

By April Vinopal, PA-C

Ask anybody and they have a strong opinion about why they do or don’t get a flu shot. You’ll hear, “I always get a flu shot and I never get the flu. So it must work!” and “I never get the flu shot and I never get the flu. So I don’t need it!”

The fact is, everyone’s immune system is different. But, most doctors do recommend getting the flu shot to be on the safe side.  Keep in mind that the flu shot isn't perfect. Even if you get vaccinated, you can still get the flu. But your symptoms should be less severe, and you are less likely to be hospitalized or die of the flu.

A few facts from last winter’s flu season:

• More than 80,000 people died from flu-related illnesses during the 2017-18 season, the highest death toll in over 40 years.

• Last year, the flu killed 180 young children and teenagers, more than in any other year since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began using its current tracking methods.  80% of these kids DID NOT get vaccinated.

•  The flu was considered at the “epidemic” level for 16 weeks last flu season. This far exceeded the five previous flu seasons, which averaged 11 weeks.

"Flu vaccinations save lives," said Surgeon General Jerome Adams. "That's why it's so important for everyone 6 months and older to get a flu vaccine every year."

No one can really predict how bad a flu season will be, so the CDC recommendation is to get the shot sometime before the end of October. The vaccine takes about 2 weeks to become effective, so the longer you wait, the more at risk you can be.

If you need convincing, here are 5 reasons you should get vaccinated.

  1. You’re more susceptible. This generally applies to those age 65+ who are at a higher risk of flu-related illnesses.
  2. It’s the socially considerate thing to do. No one wants to be “that person” who spreads the disease. You may not get sick, but you can still share germs with everyone around you.
  3. You might still get the flu, but you won’t be as sick. The flu shot reduces your risk by about 40-60%. Even if you catch it, you won’t be down for as long as you would’ve been without the vaccine.
  4. If you’re pregnant, the vaccination also protects the baby. This is a no-brainer, right? Protects mom before the birth and carries over to the baby for the first 6 months of life. Win-win.
  5. You cannot get the flu from the vaccine. This is a common misconception that’s just not true. A very small proportion of people, 1-2%, get a mild fever, but that’s not the flu. It’s just how some people react to the vaccine.

So … get vaccinated and protect yourself, your family, friends, co-workers, fellow students, etc. (Ahem, college students, you are not immune!) Can you afford to miss a week of work or school? Why take that chance!


April Vinopal, PA-C is a board-certified physician assistant, on staff at Valley Gastroenterology Associates in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.

Sources:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Public Radio