Eighty percent of the 180 children who died of the flu last year had not received a flu shot.
Last year’s flu season was the worst in 40 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with an estimated 80,000 deaths and 900,000 people hospitalized.
“Other illnesses get bigger headlines, but influenza has a major impact on people’s health every year,” says Brigitta Mueller, M.D., MHCM, vice president of medical affairs and chief patient safety officer at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. “Children and older people are particularly vulnerable. Increasing vaccination rates can have a dramatic effect on reducing the impact of the flu. Although some people might still get the flu even if they were vaccinated, chances are that the illness will be shorter and less severe.”
Experts at Johns Hopkins All Children’s and at the CDC say it’s too early to predict the severity of this year’s flu season, but they encourage everyone 6 months and older to be vaccinated. The percentage of Americans getting the flu shot dropped to 57.9 last year.
“Those 80,000 people who died from flu last year? Guess what? They got it from someone. Someone gave them the flu,” says Surgeon General Jerome Adams at a news conference. “So it's critically important that we impress upon folks that it is not just for them. It's their social responsibility to get vaccinated."
The flu shot not only reduces the chances of a person getting the flu, but it helps create “community immunity,” Adams says. It also lessens the severity among those who do get it.
That “community immunity” is particularly important for children, who come in close contact in daycare centers and schools and don’t always take preventative measures such as covering their mouths and washing their hands, Mueller says.
“Children share toys, food and drink, and interact in other ways that can spread germs,” Mueller says. “It is important for the children, their families, teachers and classmates to get the flu shot to help protect one another.”
Flu shots are available through local pharmacies and physicians. Johns Hopkins All Children’s provides flu shots to patients and staff.