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November 27, 2015

On the Fence? Get That Flu Vaccine!

by Amanda MacMillan

Flu Vaccine

If you haven't gotten a flu vaccine yet this year, you may not think it matters. After all, the flu’s no big deal, is it?

"Some people think of the flu as being just fever and aches, but it really can be much worse than that," says Alan Bernstein, MD, Chief Medical Officer for CareConnect. How bad? It can lead to pneumonia or respiratory distress—complications that could send you to the hospital, or worse. In fact, the CDC estimates that from 1976 to 2007, between 3,000 and 49,000 Americans died each year because of the flu. (The wide range reflects differences in severity and length of flu seasons.) Last year, more than 140 children died because of problems associated with the flu. And even if a bout of flu causes no complications, it can make you feel truly miserable.

Still not sure? Here are three things you ought to know about the flu vaccine:

1. Even when it’s a dud, it works. The effectiveness of the vaccine varies from year to year, and doctors don't know yet how well this year's formula will work. (Last year’s vaccine was less effective than usual.) But it’s worth remembering that the vaccine can make your symptoms milder if you do get sick. One recent study found that flu vaccination was linked to a 71 percent reduction in flu-related hospitalizations among adults.

2. It helps you protect your loved ones. If you get the flu, you’re not the only one in danger—you can spread the illness to people up to six feet away, through droplets when you cough, sneeze, or talk. That can cause big problems for people who are especially vulnerable to complications, like the elderly, young children and pregnant women. If you get the flu, you could also pass it to someone who can’t be immunized, like an infant or a person who's allergic to the vaccine.

Making matters worse, scientists say that when some people get infected, they develop no symptoms—but still can spread the illness to those around them. Getting vaccinated won't rule this out entirely, but it's one simple step you can take to reduce risk for your loved ones.

3. It's easy. As a CareConnect member, you can get a flu vaccine from your doctor or at CVS/Caremark pharmacies or Minute Clinics, among other locations. You’ll only feel a brief pinch from the shot, but if the thought of an injection makes you flinch you may have another option: Most people ages 2 through 49 can choose to receive a nasal spray vaccine, instead. “We don't recommend it to people who have underlying respiratory illnesses like asthma, but it is an option for most people who have a phobia around needles,” says Bernstein.

Bottom line: The vaccine is recommended for almost everyone over the age of six months, with the exception of some people with severe allergies or rare chronic illnesses. Remember: It may be late November, but flu season can last through late spring—and protecting yourself and your loved ones takes just a few minutes of your time.