CDC urges people to get flu shots

Flu shots play an important role in reducing hospitalizations and serious illness.With the official beginning of winter nearly upon us, that means it’s also time for flu season to take hold across the United States. So far, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the season has gotten off to a normal start, as opposed to last year when a particularly virulent strain hit the country hard and early.1

However, the CDC is still urging Americans to get their flu shots, as these vaccinations are one of the best ways to keep not only individuals from getting sick, but larger populations as well. That should lead to an uptick in activity for health professionals like certified medical assistants and pharmacy technicians, who will have to handle the rush of people wanting to insulate themselves from winter illness.

The power of vaccinations

Flu shots are viewed as controversial or unnecessary by some people, but most scientific findings indicate that they are effective in battling flu outbreaks. The CDC reports that last year flu shots kept approximately 80,000 people out of hospitals and prevented more than 6.5 million influenza-related illnesses.2 And those numbers were based on what the agency describes as conservative modeling.

Flu shots can be especially effective for the populations who are most vulnerable to winter illness – the elderly and small children. The CDC estimates that those two groups accounted for nearly 70 percent of the prevented hospitalizations.3 Still, nearly 400,000 people were hospitalized during the last flu season.

Unfortunately, despite that effectiveness, only about 40 percent of Americans have reported getting a flu shot as of early November, which is similar to last year’s numbers. But the CDC has been campaigning to get that number up as the flu season progresses.

“Many people are making it a habit to get a flu vaccine, [but] far too many people remain unvaccinated,” CDC Director Tom Frieden told reporters. “The flu itself can be very severe, causing hospitalization and death, and the single most effective tool we have to reduce the flu is the flu vaccination.”

The CDC further estimates that if just 70 percent of Americans got vaccinations another 4.4 million cases of influenza and 30,000 hospitalizations would have been prevented last flu season

2013-14 flu season relatively calm so far

While the 2012-13 flu season was among the most devastating on record, so far this year is getting off to a much calmer start. The southern U.S. has seen the most activity up to this point, with reported cases picking up throughout November and early December. However, the relatively subdued beginning doesn’t necessarily mean that the heart of flu season – January and February – won’t bring a sharp increase in cases.

“We know that it [influenza] will increase in the coming weeks and months, but we cannot predict where and when and how severe this year’s flu season will be,” Friedan told reporters.

One problem that has kept more Americans from getting vaccinated is that it is only effective 51 percent of the time. That relatively low success rate, while still substantial and greatly serving to reduce incidences of influenza, has kept some people from making vaccination a priority.

Raising awareness

The CDC’s report on the effect of flu shots last winter serves to underline how, even with a 51 percent success rate, the vaccination is the most important part of fighting outbreaks. With illness regularly being among the most decisive components of a decline in economic activity and overall personal well-being, the need to prevent as many cases of flu has been brought into stark relief.

That means one of the most important aspects of a health care professional’s job this time of year is raising awareness among their patients, family, friends and neighbors about the need to get vaccinated. As the CDC pointed out, an increase in the number of Americans who get flu shots would have a significant impact on the spread of illness throughout the country. And health professionals are on the frontlines of that effort to get more people to participate.

1 Stobbe, Mike, “CDC: Flu Season Starting a Little More Normally,” BloombergBusinessweek, Dec. 13, 2013. http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2013-12-13/cdc-flu-season-starting-a-little-more-normally
‚Äč2 Cable, Josh, “CDC: Vaccinations Prevented 6.6 Million Flu Cases Last Year,” EHS Today, Dec. 13, 2013. http://ehstoday.com/health/cdc-vaccinations-prevented-66-million-flu-cases-last-year
3 “Despite Flu Vaccine Benefits, Only 40% of U.S. Gets Flu Shot,” UPI.com, Dec. 12, 2013. http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2013/12/12/Despite-flu-vaccine-benefits-only-40-of-US-gets-flu-shot/UPI-28791386907472/

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