According to EverydayHealth, a recent survey by the Harris Poll found that 32% of Americans don’t believe the flu shot will protect them against the flu. In the same poll, 42% of respondents agreed that “people take the flu season too seriously.”
These beliefs were more prevalent among the youngest people. Older respondents will remember a time when vaccination rates were substantially lower, and flu mortality rates were higher. They may remember flu pandemics in the ’50s and ’60s that claimed a million lives or more. Younger people, meanwhile, have spent most of their lives surrounded by an anti-vaccine movement championed by celebrities and given legitimacy by some news organizations. These movements want parents not to immunize their children, and in some places want parents to deliberately expose their children to diseases as a “natural” alternative to vaccination. These practices will only become widespread if they encourage young people to be skeptical of accepted medical facts.
While accepted medical facts can change as new research comes to light, the research on flu vaccines is quite clear. Flu vaccines don’t work for everyone, but they make you less likely to get the flu. The principle of “herd immunity” multiplies that effect as fewer people are getting the flu and passing it on to others. Herd immunity is a very simple idea: if you get the flu, it’s probably because you caught it from someone who caught it from someone else. Say the flu vaccine makes you half as likely to get the flu. Even if you aren’t vaccinated, if both of those other people are vaccinated, there’s a three quarter chance that the flu won’t get to you through that route.
Here are the actual statistics: during the 2011-2012 flu season, vaccination was associated with a 71% (among adults) or a 74% (among children) reduction of flu-related hospitalizations. Some of that is the effect of individual vaccinations, and some of it is the result of herd immunity among communities with high vaccination rates. So by getting immunized, you’re helping the people around you as well as yourself.
Lincoln Research would like to wish everybody a happy and healthy new year as 2015 becomes 2016.