This year’s flu vaccine is only 29% effective. Here’s why you still need to get that shot

Georgia Public Broadcasting reported that the 2019-2020 shot is only 29% effective. However, the CDC says some coverage is better than none, and last year’s vaccine prevented an estimated 40,000 to 90,000 hospitalizations despite being no more than 32% effective.

Caitlyn Patton

Georgia Public Broadcasting reported that the 2019-2020 shot is only 29% effective. However, the CDC says some coverage is better than none, and last year’s vaccine prevented an estimated 40,000 to 90,000 hospitalizations despite being no more than 32% effective.

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Middle Georgia residents have already self-reported cases of influenza, or “the flu,” this fall, according to georgiaflu.com. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported that three people had already been hospitalized for confirmed cases of flu by Oct. 5. That’s why health officials say it’s time for every eligible American to get the influenza vaccine — no matter how effective it’s estimated to be.

Last year, the CDC FluView report found that Georgia was one of 11 states experiencing a “widespread” outbreak and one of nine to report rising flu activity compared to recent years.

That flu season was the deadliest in decades, with more than 60,000 deaths in the United States and 647,000 hospitalizations — nearly double the yearly averages. An estimated 145 Georgia residents died during the 2018-2019 flu season, while more than 3,000 other folks required hospitalizations in the metro Atlanta area alone.

Still, only about half of Americans get flu shots each year, according to the CDC. Flu rates and severity have increased, but vaccination rates have stagnated.

Part of the reason? Vaccine hesitancy — a growing distrust in pharmaceutical companies or vaccine ingredients prompting people to forgo their shots — is on the rise nationwide. The flu shot in particular gets a bad rap due to reports that it’s ineffective against some strains, but also due to myths surrounding who needs it as well as its function and side effects.

Let’s start with effectiveness. Georgia Public Broadcasting reported that the 2019-2020 shot is only 29% effective. New flu vaccines are developed each year, and the ingredients are chosen based on the medical community’s predictions as to which strains will surface that season. But according to GPB, an additional, unexpected strain “popped up halfway through the past flu season,” reducing the number of total viruses that the vaccine formula covers.

However, the CDC says some coverage is better than none, and last year’s vaccine prevented an estimated 40,000 to 90,000 hospitalizations despite being no more than 32% effective. Even if you do still get the flu after receiving the shot, your symptoms will likely be less severe and the duration will be shorter.

This means that low effectiveness isn’t a good reason to skip the vaccine, but what about side effects? Some folks worry that the shot causes a mild flu since it’s comprised of a killed version of the virus. But that’s just the thing — what’s injected into you is dead, and is therefore incapable of giving you the flu. The killed cells simply allow you to build up antibodies capable of tackling the virus should it enter your body again in the future, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

The DPH reports that side effects of the shot include soreness, redness or swelling at the site of the injection, a low-grade fever or aches for a few days. Sure, that’s inconvenient, but influenza complications can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections or dehydration, and can worsen chronic medical conditions like congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes. Any of these can result in hospitalization or death — so which would you prefer?

This shot-shaming doesn’t apply to people who aren’t medically eligible to take vaccines, of course. Many vaccines aren’t recommended for infants, elderly folks or people with certain chronic illnesses or immunocompromisation. The flu vaccine is one of the safest, however — even pregnant folks and people with long-term heart conditions can usually receive it — but if you’re at all concerned, definitely talk to your doctor before you get that shot.

If you’re able, getting vaccinated helps protect those who aren’t. When enough people in a community are vaccinated against a disease, it can’t travel as easily from person to person, and the entire community is less likely to catch it. This phenomenon is called herd immunity, according to Vaccines.gov, and it helps keep everyone safe.

Flu shots are available at the Student Health Center here on campus, most doctors’ offices and pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Rite Aid and Kroger. Local experts recommend that you get the vaccine before October ends, but if you miss that mark, don’t freak out: you can get the shot at any time, and it will be just as effective. You just want to maximize the amount of time that you, and the community at large, are protected.

For more information on how to access and pay for the flu vaccine, visit the HealthMap Vaccine Finder online — and in the meantime, please wash your hands.

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