Did you know your flu shot protects more than just you? A new study says when younger adults get vaccinated, older people suffer fewer cases of flu and its potentially life-threatening complications. Texas Medical Association (TMA) physicians urge Texas adults to get vaccinated now to protect yourself and those around you.
“We call this herd immunity,” said Wesley W. Stafford, MD, chair of TMA’s Council on Science and Public Health. “When a large portion of a population gets vaccinated, it protects those who can’t be vaccinated against disease or those who are most vulnerable.”
Dr. Stafford, an allergist-immunologist in Corpus Christi, said health experts have known about herd immunity for years, but a recent nationwide study showed just how important that can be. The study showed that when a third of younger adults (or 31 percent) in a community get vaccinated for the flu, the rate of flu and related illnesses drops by 21 percent among people over age 65.
The study, which appeared in the Sept. 10 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, looked at data from 3.3 million Medicare beneficiaries between 2002 and 2010. Medicare is the government health insurance coverage for seniors and people with disabilities.
The elderly are among the worst hit with flu-related illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 50 percent and 70 percent of hospitalizations from flu-related illness, such as pneumonia (lung infection), are in people who are over age 65. Most (80-90 percent) flu-related deaths are among the elderly.
Doctors say everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccination every year to protect themselves. Dr. Stafford says now is the time to get the shot for protection throughout the entire flu season, which can last from now through May.
In addition to the elderly, flu vaccination is especially important for other at-risk populations: young children (5 years and younger), pregnant women, and people who have chronic health conditions such as asthma and heart disease. A bonus for pregnant women who get vaccinated: The vaccine protects not only the mother but also her unborn baby. The baby remains protected by the mother’s immunity until he or she is about 6 months of age.
Several flu vaccine options are available now in addition to the standard flu shot, including a high-dose shot that for people 65 years and older provides better protection against the flu, an intradermal vaccine that uses a much smaller needle injected into the skin instead of muscle, and the nasal-spray vaccine for healthy people aged 2 to 49 years who do not have asthma and are not pregnant. Physicians suggest you talk with your doctor about which vaccine is right for you.
“The flu vaccine is the best defense against getting the flu,” said Dr. Stafford. “It’s a safe and effective way to protect yourself and those around you.”
TMA has produced a flu fact sheet and a flu facts infographic, both in English and Spanish.
To learn where flu shots are available and other flu information, visit the Texas Department of State Health Services website, or visit www.flu.gov.