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March 2, 2024

Guest Column | Fight the Flu by Getting the Vaccine This Fall

Believe it or not, it’s time once again to talk about influenza. The typical flu season in the United States begins after Labor Day, and can extend into the early spring of the following year. Our best defense has always been, and continues to be, flu vaccines.

How well the flu vaccine works can depend in part on the match between the vaccine viruses and circulating viruses. Preliminary estimates show that last season, people who were vaccinated against flu were about 40 to 70% less likely to be hospitalized because of flu illness or related complications.

Flu viruses are constantly changing. The composition of U.S. flu vaccines is reviewed annually by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee and updated as needed to best match the flu viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. For the 2023-24 season, U.S. flu vaccines will contain an updated influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 component.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the normal seasons for many common respiratory viruses were suppressed due to the maskings, social distancing, crowd avoidance, handwashing and other public health measures people practiced for Covid-19. Viruses such as influenza are even more susceptible to these preventive measures than the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

These days, those measures have waned significantly, and experts predict a significant rise in influenza cases for the 2023-24 season. The solution is simple. The influenza vaccines available this year are safe and effective. Talk to your healthcare provider or department of public health about the vaccine and when and where it will become available.

Getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones against flu and its potentially serious complications. 

Below is a summary from the CDC outlining the benefits of flu vaccination:

  • During the 2019-20 season, vaccination prevented an estimated 7.5 million influenza illnesses, 3.7 million influenza-associated medical visits, and 105,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations.
  • During seasons when flu vaccine viruses are similar to circulating flu viruses, vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of having to go to the doctor with flu by 40 to 60%.
  • A 2021 study showed that, among adults, flu vaccination was associated with a 26% lower risk of ICU admission and a 31% lower risk of death from flu compared to those who were unvaccinated.
  • It is an important preventive tool for people with certain chronic health conditions. It has been associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among those with heart disease.
  • Vaccination can reduce the risk of a flu-related worsening of chronic lung disease (for example, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) requiring hospitalization.
  • In addition to helping to protect pregnant people from flu, a vaccine given during pregnancy helps protect the baby from flu for several months after birth, when he or she is too young to be vaccinated.
  • Getting vaccinated yourself may also protect people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people, and those with certain chronic health conditions.
  • Despite the many benefits offered by flu vaccination, only about half of Americans get an annual flu shot. Many more people could be protected from flu if more people got vaccinated.

Beyond vaccinations, there are other simple ways to avoid the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like flu:

  • Avoid close contact with those who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  • If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk.
  • Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

Mee Memorial Healthcare System reminds the community that a flu vaccine will not protect against Covid-19, but there are many important benefits, such as reducing the risk of flu illness and hospitalization, while saving resources for patients suffering from more serious healthcare issues.

As in past years, MMHS will host a number of free flu clinics throughout South Monterey County, with dates and times to be announced soon. It is our hope that all members of our community take appropriate measures to stop the spread of the flu, and enjoy a happy and healthy fall and winter season.

Rena Salamacha
Rena Salamacha
CEO, Mee Memorial Healthcare System

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