UTICA, N.Y. — Only about one in three upstate New York adults receives an annual flu vaccine, according to a review of New York state health data by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. The low vaccination rate occurs each year, despite evidence of the vaccine’s flu-prevention effectiveness and its ability to reduce flu severity. The flu vaccine is widely available at doctor’s offices, area pharmacies, various clinics and other locations.
“We can stomp out the flu, or limit its opportunity to spread, if everyone gets the flu vaccine,” said Richard Lockwood, M.D., vice president and chief medical officer, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. He warns that if this flu season is anything like last year’s, it could be a bad one. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classified the 2017-2018 flu season as “high severity” overall and, for the first time since the 2003-2004 flu season, “high severity” among each age group.
With few exceptions, the CDC recommends that everyone ages six months and older gets the flu vaccine annually. While it’s never too early or too late in the flu season to get the vaccine, the CDC encourages doing so by the end of October. Children ages 6 months through 8 years who require two doses of the flu vaccine should receive their first dose as soon as possible to allow the second dose (which must be administered four weeks or more later) to be received by the end of October.
Each year in the U.S., there are 2.5 million flu cases that result in hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths. One person with the flu can infect other people one day before any symptoms develop, and up to about seven days after he/she becomes sick. Statistically, every 100 people with the flu will infect 127 other people. The virus can spread to others up to about 6 feet away, mainly by microscopic droplets expelled into the air when people cough, sneeze or even talk.
“Your decision to skip the flu vaccine this year could result in you being a person who spreads the virus,” cautioned Lockwood. “For young children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems, the flu virus can be deadly, and it isn’t always obvious who among us is most vulnerable.”
Other than an aversion to needles, the top reasons people give for skipping the flu vaccine are that they think it will give them the flu, they don’t believe it works, they don’t think they need it every year, or they feel it is too early or too late in the flu season for the vaccine to be effective. “None of these reasons is supported in the medical literature,” said Lockwood.
Many health insurance policies cover the cost of the flu vaccine in full. Download a free Stomp Out The Flu poster at https://tinyurl.com/y6u93naa.
Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, a nonprofit independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association, is part of a family of companies that finances and delivers vital health care services to about 1.5 million people across upstate New York. Excellus BlueCross BlueShield provides access to high-quality, affordable health coverage, including valuable health-related resources that our members use every day, such as cost-saving prescription drug discounts and wellness tracking tools. To learn more, visit excellusbcbs.com.