Still Time to Get Your Flu Shot — Here’s the Key Reason You Should

'Community immunity' makes it harder for 'diseases to spread, including to people who can't tolerate some vaccines'

The holiday season, when we often gather with friends and family, is a great time for me to remind people of the crucial need for vaccinations — not just to protect you, but to protect everyone you contact.

You want to spread good wishes and holiday cheer with your hugs, kisses and handshakes — not contagious diseases. But this close contact, along with coughs, can spread viruses that can make those around you sick.

When a large majority of people are vaccinated against a disease we achieve what’s known as herd immunity, or community immunity. That makes it harder for diseases to spread, including to people who can’t tolerate some vaccines because of certain health conditions.

By joining the ranks of the vaccinated and lowering your chances of getting sick, you are helping to decrease the amount of disease-carrying viruses circulating. This lowers the risk of diseases spreading among the rest of us.

That’s why we all have a public health responsibility to take our shots.

Flu season has just started to peak in the U.S. Luckily, the flu vaccine this year is a better match for the powerful H3N2 circulating strain of flu virus that caused most of the estimated 79,000 flu deaths in the U.S. during the 2017-2018 flu season.

That’s a horrific death toll that ought to convince everyone able to get a flu shot to get one if you haven’t already.

For thousands of Americans, this is quite literally a life and death issue.

According to the most recent Centers for Disease Control update on Dec. 15, flu symptoms requiring doctors’ visits are most severe in Colorado and Georgia, while “Guam and six states (Alabama, California, Delaware, Georgia, Massachusetts, and New York) reported widespread flu activity and 37 states are now reporting regional or local flu activity.”

Does this mean that the majority of Americans have already had their flu shot? Unfortunately, it doesn’t. According to the CDC, only around 40 percent of Americans typically get an annual flu shot, and this year is not likely to be an exception.

By joining the ranks of the vaccinated and lowering your chances of getting sick, you are helping to decrease the amount of disease-carrying viruses circulating. This lowers the risk of diseases spreading among the rest of us

Since the flu season has not yet peaked, there is still plenty of time to get your flu shot, which takes about two weeks to become effective.

Health-care workers can be great role models for vaccine compliance, but only 74 percent of them get flu shots, according to the CDC. The vaccination rate for health-care workers shoots up to 95 percent in workplaces that require vaccinations.

When you consider the consequences of non-vaccination in terms of potential spread of the flu to very sick people or those with compromised immune systems, it is completely clear that flu vaccines should be mandatory for health-care workers.

A flu virus that can make an otherwise healthy person working in a hospital or nursing home sick for just a few days can be fatal for one of the patients infected by a health-care worker.

Yet only two-thirds of hospitals require their employees to get flu shots.

I am very proud that my own hospital in New York City is a great role model for vaccine compliance. Unfortunately, according to a recent survey by Medscape, 53 percent of health-care workers don’t agree that they should be required to get vaccinated against the flu.

The problem surrounding vaccine compliance extends beyond flu to other killer diseases.

Measles is still a worldwide problem, and with a rate of infection much higher than flu, it is absolutely crucial for all people to get vaccinated.

According to the World Health Organization, measles cases are surging, up 30 percent in 2017, causing about 110,000 deaths worldwide.

The measles problem has worsened in Europe, especially in Britain, France and in Italy, where there have been more than 2,700 cases over the past year, with 89 percent of the cases occurring in unvaccinated individuals.

The vaccination rate in Italy for measles has dropped well below 90 percent, which has led directly to measles cases among unvaccinated individuals. The critical number needed to achieve herd immunity requires 93 to 95 percent of the population to be vaccinated.

The risk of measles has increased to the point where the CDC was compelled to issue a Level 1 travel alert to Italy back in May, warning travelers there to make sure they have received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Unfortunately, many leaders in the current Italian government are too sympathetic to the anti-vaccination movement.

There has been an ongoing struggle between the pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine movements until finally, in November, the Italian Health Ministry announced a plan to keep mandatory measles vaccinations in place.

One doctor, Robert Burioni, a professor of microbiology and virology at the prestigious Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan, has been waging a personal and effective war on social media against the anti-vaxxers.

Vaccines are public health’s best friend. Therefore, they are your friend, too.

Here in the U.S., 292 cases of measles have been confirmed in 26 states and the District of Columbia this year, the most in this country since 2014. Outbreaks have been linked to travel, and the majority of people who got measles were unvaccinated.

The solution is prevention. Since one out of 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, and one out of 1,000 gets damaging brain swelling, the risk of going unvaccinated is too great to take.

Vaccines are public health’s best friend. Therefore, they are your friend, too.

For yourself, for your family, your friends, your co-workers, your community and our country, get vaccinated to prevent needless illnesses and deaths.

Marc Siegel, M.D. is a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. He has been a medical analyst and reporter for Fox News since 2008. This Fox News opinion piece is used by permission.

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