By Julian Ritchey, Head of Public Affairs, Sanofi Pasteur US
Just about every public health authority recommends getting an annual flu vaccination, but fewer than half of America’s adults get one. Why? Sure, some people have strong feelings against vaccines, but in the case of flu, I believe the bigger issue is this: People don’t take the flu seriously.
Those avoiding a flu vaccination often rely on their own experience of not having had the flu—which, over time, is tantamount statistically to luck. If they are an adult in pretty good health, they think the flu doesn’t happen to them. My observations were borne out in a recent poll where nearly half of those who said they weren’t going to get their annual flu vaccination said it was because they didn’t think they needed it.
The problem here is people are confusing “want” with “need.” There may be many reasons you don’t “want” to get a flu vaccination, but there aren’t many reasons you don’t “need” one. Decades of real-world experience and statistical data clearly show that the flu has serious consequences, even for healthy people.
Some may think they have personal experience with the flu, and to them, it’s not that bad. But public health authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tell us those people probably just had a cold or a stomach “bug”—not the real flu. The flu is far more severe, even if you’re healthy. Traditional flu symptoms, including high fever and severe body aches, can take you out of commission for a week, if not longer. And those are just the consequences if you’re healthy—or as some might say, if you’re lucky.
When you know the numbers, the toll of the flu is alarming. However, healthcare providers tell a very consistent story: Their patients just don’t realize the flu can be life-threatening, especially for the most vulnerable populations. Most people seem to know that the two most vulnerable populations for the flu are the old and the young. But still they don’t realize the consequences for these groups can be so devastating.
Many also don’t realize how dangerous the flu is for those with chronic health conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes. The flu contributes to thousands of deaths each year, even though the cause of death is frequently attributed to something else. In fact, the risk for flu-attributed death is five times higher for seniors with chronic heart disease than for those without.
What’s more, the overall price tag for flu is high, with annual direct costs (hospitalization, doctors’ office visits, medications, etc.) in the United States totaling approximately $4.6 billion. That’s a number that’s unnecessarily huge.
So when the medical experts look at the risk, the illnesses, the deaths and ultimately the costs that flu brings, they overwhelmingly agree there is one thing that gives you the best chance to avoid the flu and its serious consequences: an annual flu vaccination.
This graphic tells the tale. An annual flu vaccination prevents millions of cases and thousands of doctor’s office visits and hospitalizations. The CDC believes in the value of flu prevention so much they have recommended the flu vaccination for more people than any other vaccine. If you are six months of age and older, with only rare exception, they recommend you get one. That means that 99 percent of the U.S. population is recommended to get a flu vaccination.
This is why Sanofi Pasteur and so many other organizations care about educating the public about the devastation of the flu. Knowing patients trust their physicians and other healthcare providers, we work closely to arm them with the knowledge necessary to help improve vaccination rates.
Almost as powerful as the recommendation from a physician is one from a family member or friend. Telling them you are getting your annual flu vaccination might just make them think about it. To use the simple logic of Mick Jagger, even though a flu immunization might not be what they want, they just might find, it certainly is the thing that they need. And when you know the facts about the flu, it’s hard to imagine making any other decision.