Eight Texas children have died from flu-related illnesses; and flu has caused over 1,100 deaths in Texas, thousands of hospital visits and school closures. We are just two months into the 2019-2020 flu season, and it doesn’t end until May.
The influenza vaccine is among the least adhered-to immunizations recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and prevention. Why? Probably because the flu vaccine is effective during that season only, unlike other vaccines. The CDC recommends everyone older than 6 months, including pregnant women, receive flu vaccines annually.
Less than half of Americans do so, which is a deadly mistake. In 2017-2018, nearly 80,000 Americans died from the flu, about 12,000 in Texas. The next flu season, more than 51,000 Americans died; 20 percent, 10,020, were Texans. Besides not taking time from our busy schedules, some hear of relatively low effectiveness rates in some years and don’t understand that getting a flu shot is still the better choice.
U.S. doctors spend a lot of time studying flu seasons in different countries. Doctors particularly watch Australia’s flu seasons because its winter and flu season comes before ours, starting in June and ending in September. It’s often an indicator of what we can expect.
Two years ago, Australia had a terrible flu season, and ours mirrored that, with nearly 49 million people sickened in the United States. Almost 1 million were hospitalized, and 79,400 died. The number of cases was the highest since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
The 2019-2020 flu season will be just as bad, unless we take heed and get vaccinated now against the deadly disease. The timeline is especially important because it takes two weeks for the flu vaccination to take effect.
Delays can be tragic. During the difficult flu season two years ago, Texas experienced the death of a young boy whose parents had scheduled his flu vaccination for early January. The otherwise healthy 4-year-old died from a flu-related illness Christmas Day.
His parents have since become ardent advocates for timely flu vaccinations. Sixteen more children died in Texas that flu season, twice the number of the two previous seasons.
It’s true that developing a flu vaccine as effective as that for measles has eluded scientists, thus far. It’s science, and scientific projections are made months before the flu season begins, to include which strain or strains of flu will be most prevalent in our country. The dominant strains can change, even during a flu season. Some strains can mutate between the time the vaccine is developed and the time people start getting their shots.
Health officials report on the effectiveness of the current season’s vaccine in February. In years when the vaccine has proven less effective, the true measure of the flu vaccine is how it works throughout a community. Those who don’t get sick also don’t sicken others. The effect is multiplied and is referred to as herd immunity.
Even when the vaccine doesn’t prevent you from getting sick, it will generally result in a much milder case.