By DAN WEBER
Association of Mature American Citizens
Consider this a call for people, the elderly in particular, to get a flu shot if they haven’t done so already. It is not too late. The flu season began earlier than usual this year and is expected to last for months.
There’s still time and, as the saying goes, better late than never. It could save lives. Seniors, especially those 65 years of age or older, are at greater risk of complications from influenza because their immune systems grow weaker with age.
A worldwide flu pandemic occurred in 1918-1919, leaving between 50 and 100 million people dead – three percent of the world’s population at the time, historian Dan Jones noted in a recent article. There was no vaccine at that time.
No one can predict how long the flu season will last this time around. But, we have vaccines to help significantly reduce the number of people who can become infected with the influenza virus. In fact, even if you get the flu after being vaccinated, the shot significantly reduces its symptoms among those who had recently received influenza vaccine as compared to those who had not, according to the American Society for Microbiology. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.
Dr. Andrea Chisholm is an OB/GYN at the Cambridge Health Alliance and a Clinical Instructor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Harvard Medical School. She says that the risks associated with the flu far outweigh the risks of not getting vaccinated, even among pregnant women.
Dr. Chisholm says “getting vaccinated against the flu during pregnancy has benefits for your baby as well. Newborns, like pregnant women, are more likely to get seriously ill or even die if they get the flu. Your baby can’t get a flu shot until six months of age. However, if you get the flu vaccine during pregnancy you will pass antibodies to your baby that will protect him or her from the flu in the first few months of life.”
The Centers for Disease Control issued a statement at a news briefing in January in which Dr. Daniel Jernigan, director of CDC’s Influenza Division, said that while “not everyone needs to get antiviral drugs, there are certain people that should.” CDC recommends that people who are very sick or people with flu symptoms who are high-risk for serious flu complications should be treated as soon as possible with flu antiviral drugs. Who are those people? That means people that are 65 and older. It means young children. It means people with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease or asthma. It means pregnant women and others more vulnerable to serious flu illness.
While Dr. Chisholm and the CDC (www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/qa_vacpregnant.htm) advise pregnant women to get flu shots, expectant mothers should consult their OB/GYNs before being vaccinated.
Several recent studies have shown that the flu vaccine reduces the risk of catching the flu by 40 percent to 60 percent among the general population. So, it is advised that anyone who hasn’t yet been vaccinated should do so as soon as possible.
Dan Weber is president of The Association of Mature American Citizens, (http://www.amac.us) a senior advocacy organization that acts and speaks on behalf of its members. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of this paper or its corporate ownership.