Plan ahead for fall fun by staying well, getting immunized against the flu
Visiting pumpkin patches, enjoying campfire s’mores, cheering for Oklahoma football: no one’s autumn to-do list includes getting the flu. While illness isn’t part of official plans, foregoing the flu vaccine increases the likelihood of getting sick. Adding “Get my flu immunization” to the top of a seasonal to-do list can make it much easier to ensure attending all the fun activities this season promises and protecting others by curbing the spread of the virus.
Flu by the numbers
With flu season’s official start in October, doctors and public health professionals are urging early immunization to protect our most vulnerable populations: young children, pregnant women and elderly adults, who make up the majority of flu hospitalizations.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) experts list flu immunizations as the foremost method of prevention, which can help curb the spread before its peak between December and February, the months we tend to gather indoors. Choosing to get immunized against the flu may be the most important health decision individuals make this fall, with protection through the end of flu season, which stretches into May.
The CDC estimates as many as 13 million cases of flu circulated through the U.S. between October 2021 and June 2022, resulting in more than 5 million medical visits, up to 170,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths. Coupled with COVID, hospital capacity will likely be strained throughout the coming winter, making prompt attention with adequate personnel less feasible. Curb the spread, reduce the risk
Unlike COVID, flu is rarely asymptomatic but it’s possible to spread the virus before the onset of symptoms. While hygiene measures like increased handwashing, social distancing and mask wearing reduce the spread of the flu and other viruses, being up-to-date on annual immunizations significantly reduces risk.
Each year’s flu vaccine efficacy varies between 40 and 70%, as researchers work months in advance to predict which strains of the flu will most affect the target population. Even with multi-strain variables, symptoms and related complications are significantly less in immunized patients.
Get immunized for better outcomes
Flu complications, especially in adults ages 65 or older, can include cardiovascular problems, which may lead to stroke or heart attack. The CDC reports a correlation of fewer cardiac events among patients with heart disease who opted to get the flu vaccine, with an 82% drop in flu-related complications in the 2012-2015 flu seasons among immunized patients. Immunized patients also had a 26% lower rate of intensive care unit admission and a 31% lower risk of death from the flu compared to unimmunized patients. The flu vaccine is also life-saving in children. A 2022 CDC-reviewed study reported a reduction in children’s overall mortality from flu by 75%, for example, with better outcomes overall in children with autoimmune disorders like asthma.
Getting immunized also protects immunocompromised individuals who cannot be vaccinated and infants under 6 months of age who are too young to receive the vaccine series. The New England Journal of Medicine also published a 2018 study of newborns with improved immunity to the flu whose mothers were vaccinated during pregnancy.
Schedule your immunization appointment
Help make for a better fall season, with fewer missed days of work, family and community events, by getting your flu immunization this year. Contact your insurance provider, primary care physician, the Oklahoma State Department of Health or your local county health department for more information about flu vaccine availability.
Dr. Mary Clarke is immediate past president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association (OSMA) and a member of the Oklahoma Alliance for Healthy Families