Are the Risks of Not Getting a Flu Shot Worth It?

October 21, 2016 • AARP, Columnists

ron-mori_bwBy Ron Mori

There’s an old joke that if you ask your local druggist, “What is your favorite season?” — he or she will say, “The flu season!” Why not? The druggist will likely fill more prescriptions and sell many more over-the-counter remedies during flu season than at any other time of year. Flu season begins in October, peaks between December and February, and can last into May.

But flu season is no joke. In fact, for too many, it’s a tragedy, particularly for people with ongoing health issues or if you are 65 years and older. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), annual flu-associated deaths can approach 50,000 — with nearly 9 of every 10 deaths being among people age 65 and older. More than 200,000 people must be hospitalized.

Yet, only about 58 percent of American seniors, on average, have been getting their influenza vaccine, or “flu shot,” in recent years. That’s really sad because so many of those deaths could easily have been prevented.

Many people I talk to don’t seem to realize just how risky the flu virus can be or just how easy it is to catch it. For example, you can catch the flu if you’re around an infected person who coughs or sneezes. You can also pick up flu germs from touching a surface that someone with the flu has touched, such as a railing or a doorknob, then passing the germs from your hand to your nose or mouth.

The good news is that you can protect yourself from the flu by simply getting your annual flu shot. Now, let’s face it, nobody likes to get shots and, yes, there will be some time and possible inconvenience involved with getting your flu shot. But you need to ask yourself: “Are the risks of not(ital) getting a flu shot worth it? Spending weeks feeling lousy, having to be hospitalized or even possibly dying?”

The CDC recommends that people 50 or older get a flu shot every year. For people 65 or older, you have two options — the regular-strength flu shot or the Fluzone High-Dose, a vaccine that creates a stronger immune response to combat age-related weakening of the immune system. Your healthcare provider can help you decide which dosage is better for you.

These days, flu shots are available in many locations such as your doctor’s office, work place, supermarket or drugstore. If you’d like more information on the flu or on flu shots, visit the Influenza (Flu) page on the CDC website (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/), which includes a “Flu Vaccine Finder” where you can enter your zip code and find a place near you to get a flu shot.

As far as cost is concerned, part of the Affordable Care Act’s preventive benefits, people in Medicare and Medicaid can get an annual flu shot at no cost, and both flu vaccines are covered. For everyone else, many insurance plans provide coverage for the flu vaccine. It is best to double-check on your co-pay or responsibility for payment.

Well, I’ve done my best to shoot down all the “reasons” I’ve heard for not getting a flu shot. So, PLEASE get one!

Ron Mori is a board member for the Washington, D.C., JACL chapter, and manager of community, states and national affairs — multicultural leadership for AARP.

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