Only one in three upstate New York adults ages 18 to 64 receives an annual flu vaccine, according to new research by Univera Healthcare. While not everyone who avoids the flu shot or nasal spray gets sick, there were about 16,000 confirmed cases among adults ages 18 and older in upstate New York last year.
“I don’t think people take the flu seriously, and they should,” said Richard Vienne, D.O., Univera Healthcare vice president and chief medical officer. “Many refer to every case of the sniffles accompanied by aches and pains as the ‘flu,’ but flu is very specific and very serious.” Nationwide, flu causes 200,000 hospitalizations and nearly 24,000 deaths each year.
When it comes to confirmed cases of the flu, upstate New York gets more than its fair share. With only a quarter of the state’s population, upstate New York accounts for around 37 percent of the state’s total confirmed cases.
“Vaccination continues to provide the best protection against influenza when incorporated with other preventive measures such as hand washing and social distancing,” said Daniel J. Stapleton, public health director of Niagara County. “During this flu season it is important to take every action available to you to prevent influenza. Get vaccinated and follow preventive measures.”
Flu activity usually peaks between December and February, but outbreaks can occur as early as October, and activity can last as late as May. “The beautiful weather we’ve had this fall may have lulled people into thinking that it’s not yet flu season, but it is,” Vienne said.
Flu shots and nasal sprays are among the essential benefits that are covered in full under the Affordable Care Act. They are available at many pharmacies and other sites without an appointment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone age six months and older get a flu vaccine annually.
“Why get a flu vaccine? Besides the fact that no one likes to be sick, influenza can lead to severe respiratory illness requiring hospitalization and in some cases can be fatal,” stated Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County Commissioner of Health. “Not only will you lessen your chance of getting the flu, you will also limit the likelihood of passing the virus onto family members or colleagues who have a chronic illness, for whom influenza can be a very serious health concern.”
Common myths may be the reason why two in three upstate New York adults don’t get the vaccine.
Myth: The flu vaccine isn’t very effective. Fact: While the effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies, it’s still the best way to prevent flu or shorten its duration.
Myth: Flu season has already started. It’s too late to get the vaccine. Fact: As long as flu viruses are circulating, it’s not too late to get vaccinated.
Myth: I got the flu vaccine last year, so I don’t need it this year. Fact: Strains of viruses can change each season, and a person’s immunity declines over time.
Myth: If I get the flu shot now, it won’t protect me through the entire flu season. Fact: Although the immunity provided by the flu vaccine can vary by person, immunity lasts through a full flu season for most people.
Myth: The flu vaccine can cause the flu. Fact: The flu vaccine can’t give you the flu, because the virus it contains has been inactivated or weakened.
Myth: Washing my hands will protect me from getting the flu. Fact: Frequent hand-washing can help slow the spread of germs that cause the flu, but the single best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated each year.