The flu shot may have been a dud this year, but you should still get it

Many people know, some first-hand, that this flu season is terrible. With news that this year’s flu shot didn’t have the correct viruses, as it wasn’t a good “match,” you may be wondering why you would ever get the shot in the future. Because of this, Canada is at risk for low flu vaccination rates next year and an increasing death toll. Here’s why you shouldn’t write it off just yet.

Vaccination against the flu reduces risk of hospitalization and saves lives

When the flu vaccine is a good or even decent match, it works extremely well at preventing serious illness and even death. Pregnant women are advised to get it, as it can protect women and their babies for up to six months after delivery. This can reduce hospital admissions for flu-related illnesses in infants by a whopping 92 per cent. In kids, the flu shot has been found to reduce pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admissions for flu-related hospitalizations by as much as 74 per cent. It was also shown to decrease flu-related hospitalization in adults by 71 per cent and by 77 per cent in older adults (50 and older) during the 2011-2012 flu season.

One of the most interesting statistics is that flu vaccination has been associated with lower rates of cardiac events in people with pre-existing cardiac disease, lower rates of hospitalization in patients with diabetes (79 per cent reduction) and in patients with chronic lung disease (52 per cent reduction). Although one study showed that 1 death was prevented for every 4,000 people vaccinated, many other outcomes need to be considered. Hospitalization often marks the beginning of a decline in the elderly, and so although the flu shot might not directly prevent their death, it might prevent the decline leading to their death.

Getting the flu shot can help protect those around you who are at high risk

If you’re not going to get it for yourself, then get it for your 2-month-old niece, who is too young to be immunized yet is at high risk of serious complications, or your 84-year-old grandmother with heart disease. Flu shots work best at preventing the flu in young, healthy adults. If everyone around the person at risk is protected against the flu, then that person is less likely to get it as well. This is called “herd immunity.”

So, you might be asking, is the flu shot completely useless for the elderly themselves to get? Absolutely not. Those 65 years and older are at highest risk for serious complications from the flu. Not only does the flu shot decrease their chances of getting the flu, but if they do get it, there is a better chance their flu symptoms will be less aggressive than if they didn’t get the shot in the first place.

Even if you get the flu, the shot will likely decrease its severity

If someone who has been vaccinated against the flu still gets it, their symptoms might be milder than those who don’t. This might reduce the risk of hospitalization, morbidity (such as heart attacks, pneumonia, short-term disability and the need for nursing home care) and mortality. So although you might be upset that you got the shot and still got the flu, imagine what it would be like if you hadn’t gotten vaccinated at all.

The flu shot may increase your non-specific immunity

There are two types of immunity: non-specific (inflammation and the immediate response of the immune system to a virus or bacteria) and specific (protection against a very specific bacteria or virus). If you believe children should get dirty once in a while to build up their immune systems, then you should believe in vaccinations. Vaccinations provide exposure to pathogens, which is known to build up specific immunity against what you are vaccinating against (such as the specific flu viruses chosen that year). However, vaccinations might also increase non-specific immunity in the long run, thus making your first-line defences stronger as well.

Right now we need a reminder more than ever that the flu shot saves lives. It is not worth the risk. Protect yourself and your family — get the shot.

More on the flu

Important: New flu guidelines for moms this season
Debating the flu vaccine
Scientists plan to deliberately infect people with the flu