OPINION: Why Getting Your Flu Shot Can Save Another’s Life

By Chris Kernan-Schmidt, Columnist

It is that time of year again where it seems like everyone you know is or has been sick recently. It’s flu season, and this year’s flu is particularly bad. You may have been one of millions of Americans to get the flu this season. Many have experienced the awful aches and pains, headaches, fever and lethargy that lasted days. The flu is no fun for anyone but for most, it tends to clear up within a week, especially if you had a flu vaccine or were prescribed an antiviral early on. However, there are many populations that cannot recover as easily, and for some a week of the flu could turn deadly.

For children, the elderly or people living with immunosuppressive conditions (like myself), the flu can be extremely dangerous. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that, “most people who get the flu will have mild illness, will not need medical care or antiviral drugs, and will recover in less than two weeks. Some people, however, are more likely to get flu complications that can result in hospitalization and sometimes death.”

This is incredibly scary if you are a parent of a young child, caretaker, or someone susceptible to complications. Thankfully, there are methods and protections to help those stay as safe as possible. Getting an annual flu shot, using antiviral medication and being cognizant of everyday preventive actions such as washing your hands are all ways to protect yourself.

For many of these susceptible groups, getting the flu shot is not enough and for a rare group it may not even be possible. According to research released this January by Eurosurveillance, Europe’s leading journal about epidemiology, this year’s flu vaccine is estimated to only be 10 percent effective against the 2017 influenza A(H3N2) epidemic (the common strain in most areas). Even if these groups receive the flu vaccine, it still does not guarantee protection from all strains of the flu. For most people, a flu vaccine also does not guarantee protection but can vastly reduce symptoms. However, for groups with compromised immune systems, it remains just as deadly.

Getting your annual flu vaccine not only helps keep you safe, but protects those who can catch the virus easier much safer. The CDC recommends that caregivers receive a vaccine each year to reduce their likelihood of catching and spreading the disease to their patients. This advice is critical for anyone, especially those in diverse and populous environments such as college. By getting a flu vaccine, you are saving yourself the pain of the flu but also potentially saving the life of a person who is more susceptible. While the vaccine may not be completely effective, it is still better than nothing and gives you and those around you a better chance at fighting the nasty virus.

As a diabetic, I have and always will get my yearly flu vaccine. It helps strengthen my weakened immune system to better fight off the flu, but it is not perfect. I cannot ask everyone to get a flu vaccine, but I can ask that you think twice before you decide to forgo getting it. Think twice not only about your own comfort but the comfort of those around you who may be susceptible. You can help further protect your grandma, your little brother, and maybe even your best friend from a potentially deadly, and very easy to catch, virus. You can find more information about the flu and the vaccine on the CDC’s website, www.cdc.gov as well as George Mason’s Student Health Services website, www.shs.gmu.edu/fight-the-flu/

Photo by Allie Thompson