The holidays are a popular time of year to take a few hours out our busy schedules or money out of our wallets to benefit community groups working on behalf of vulnerable neighbors. Many of these organizations do life-saving work, often specifically on behalf of children or the elderly. Much appreciation is owed to anyone who gives to these worthy causes.
Now what if I told you that you could take just 15 minutes, give zero dollars, and actually save lives. Almost unbelievable, right? But it's true. You can do all three of those things when you get a flu shot.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 80,000 people died of influenza during last year's flu season. Nearly 200 of them were children. When you think of the families affected, this is a particularly startling and deeply sad statistic. What's more surprising is that 26 percent of the children who died of the flu were vaccinated.
I hear you wondering, "How could that be?" Here's the answer: The vaccine works best when we all get it. Scientists who study who gets sick and why call this "herd immunity" or "community immunity."
To illustrate, if 95 percent of a population is vaccinated, the 5 percent who are not can get the flu more easily and can even spread it to those who have been vaccinated. When we all get vaccinated, the illness has a much harder time breaking in. If one vaccinated person happens to get the flu, the virus runs out of steam to infect the next vaccinated person. In short, "herd immunity" stops viruses in their tracks. When most people get the flu shot, it reduces everyone's risk — especially the risk of kids, older adults, and those with weak immune systems.
Getting a flu shot is fast, convenient, easy, and usually free to consumers. If you have not already, now is the time to act. There is still time to protect others and yourself with a flu shot. Call your primary care provider or visit vaccinefinder.org for your nearest vaccination location. Then take the 15 minutes to get it done.
Just like those who volunteer hours of their time or make gifts of financial support feel a sense of pride and satisfaction of helping others, those who get the flu shot can feel good about their having helped their neighbors. Plus, those who are vaccinated are far less likely to get the flu or a severe case of the flu than those who are not.
So let's get together and protect ourselves and our neighbors, so we all can have a healthy holiday and many new years to come.
Marie George, MD, is the medical director for infectious disease at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. Her practice is within the SVMC Multispecialty Practice. "Health Matters" is a column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care. For more columns like this one, visit svhealthcare.org/wellnessconnection.
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