Though it is only September, public health officials have started making the call for everyone to receive their flu shots, especially health care workers who visit patients vulnerable to the flu, sometimes every day.
Last week, the Virginia Department of Health held an event at the Richmond City Health District with health care leaders, as well as Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, in which Stoney and Virginia’s health commissioner, Dr. Marissa Levine, received their flu shots.
“The flu is still a major contributor to hospitalization and death,” said Dr. Danny Avula, director of the health district, during the event.
Some data show that calls for flu shots sometimes fall on deaf ears. Last year, only 40 percent of Americans reported receiving the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Virginia, the rate of people receiving their flu shots remained relatively stagnant between 2010 and 2014, VDH data show, with just under 50 percent receiving vaccines.
“Our vaccination rates are not as high as they should be,” Levine said.
Public health officials around the state are hoping to ramp those numbers up, though, because the flu can be deadly, especially for children and older adults. But although those populations especially should receive the vaccine, so too should the general population. If more people receive the vaccine, the disease is less likely to spread to vulnerable people.
Most experts agree that vaccines for diseases like the mumps or whooping cough are necessary for a healthy population — and the same line of thinking applies to flu shots.
Part of Virginia’s Plan for Well-Being — a statewide plan that, if achieved, would lead to a far healthier, and probably happier, state — includes a goal of increasing the percentage of adults in Virginia who receive an annual influenza vaccine from 48.2 percent to 70 percent by 2020.
According to the CDC, fears that the vaccine could actually cause the flu are unfounded. Most people who get the vaccine have no problem with it, though soreness, fatigue and fever can sometimes occur, though rarely.
Even more rare side effects, like a slightly increased risk of Guillain-Barré syndrome, only occur for one or two people out of 1 million people vaccinated. The CDC notes that risk is much lower than the risk of developing severe flu complications.
Though September may seem early to receive a vaccination, it takes about two weeks until it becomes entirely effective, so it is smart to get the vaccine early in the season.