As I sat at my kitchen table this morning, quieting the metaphorical cockatoos screaming into plastic orange cups within my mind, it suddenly dawned on me: I haven’t gotten my flu shot. Flu season started in October, as West Virginia NBC affiliate WTAP reported on Wednesday—does that mean I’m screwed? Am I going to get the flu? Will I die as a result of my own negligence???
If you, like me, are a big dummy who forgets to get a flu shot every year, despite the prominence of news coverage urging us to do so, building on decades and decades of knowing we should, I have good news: It’s not too late to get vaccinated for the flu this year. You can technically get vaccinated at any time of year, whether that's in the middle of summer or the dead of winter.
But just because you can get a flu shot anytime you want doesn’t mean you should. Peak flu season varies from year to year and can take place anytime between December and February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Getting vaccinated too early may decrease the vaccine’s effectiveness, putting your health at risk during flu season, while getting a shot too late would, obviously, make you susceptible to the disease until you do (and potentially for up to two weeks after vaccination, which is the time it may take for your body to develop protective antibodies against the flu from the shot). That’s why the CDC recommends getting immunized in late October, just to be safe.
If you didn't get a flu shot yet, it’s not just your own health that you’re putting at risk. It’s also everyone you live with, work with, commute next to, and otherwise physically spend time near. If you get a flu shot, you’re less likely to contract and spread the disease to everyone and anyone you come into contact with—the more people who are vaccinated, the more protected the unvaccinated will be. (This is a phenomenon called “the herd effect” or “herd immunity,” FYI.) Protecting ourselves—and so, others—has become an even more urgent issue in recent years: An estimated 38,00 people died of influenza-associated causes in the United States during the 2016–17 season, per the CDC, and, though the CDC has not yet finalized this number, they've estimated that anywhere from 61,000–80,000 people died during the 2017–18 flu season, which is estimated to be the highest flu-season death count in decades (though these numbers may change as the CDC obtains more data).
Given all this information, it’s kind of wild that fewer Americans over the age of 18 got their flu shot during the 2017–18 season (37.1 percent) than the season before (43.3 percent)… which—wait. That’s fewer than two adults out of five. That’s so low! I’m part of the problem!! Why am I writing about this when I need to get vaccinated right now!! Get your shot, goodbye!!!
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