It’s December, Should I Still Bother Getting a Flu Shot?

4 minutes of flu answers without an agenda

Well actually I do have an agenda: I think it’s really gross when people don’t cover their coughs and sneezes. I almost believe I can see all those little virus particles floating in the airway as I do my holiday shopping.

Unfortunately, here comes the flu! Per the CDC graph below, the current season is trending towards being one of the bigger flu seasons in recent history.

And thanks to Thanksgiving travel and family celebrations, millions of healthy people have recently been exposed to a few thousand sick people (I’m looking at you, Southwest Airlines passenger in seat 18A as we approached Chicago!) The seasonal travel has given cold and flu season the jump start it was looking for.

Which begs the questions — now that it’s December — is it still worth getting a flu shot? Will it do any good?

Is it still worthwhile to get a flu shot in December?

Heck yes. Flu season is just starting to pick up, and will likely run December through March or April. That’s months and months of people coughing and sneezing everywhere. The immunization takes about 2 weeks to reach full strength however, so sooner is better.

Wait, is the shot even effective this year?

TBD. It will depend on which dominant flu strains emerge. Also, individuals are unique, so some people will have better protection than others. We would all link to imagine that the vaccine is 100% effective, but 50% effective is more realistic.

50% effective? That’s not very good!

Agreed. But 50% is a lot better than the 0% protection which is what you have without a flu shot. Whether or not 50% is worthwhile value depends on who you are. Read on for some examples.

If you’re a healthy 35 year old….

You’re an adult. You’re healthy. And you’re not around a lot of sick people. If it’s a horrific flu season and 20% of people like you get the flu, you have a 8/10 chance of not getting the flu. And you have a 9/10 chance of not getting the flu if you’re immunized. Are you feeling lucky? 80% chance of dodging the flu is pretty good odds. Maybe it’s not worth it for you, although if you’re around infants or the elderly, read on.

You’re a healthy 35 years old….but you have an infant at home

Or you frequently visit an elderly relative. The math changes here, and you know as a parent that it’s not all about you anymore. The very young and the elderly are at the highest risk of death from the flu. It’s all about protecting them from you, and you should probably get immunized. The same logic applies to nurses and doctors: it is unethical to be around sick people while acting as a potential flu vector.

You’re an infant or you’re elderly.

If you’re elderly the flu can be dangerous, even fatal. If you want to avoid dying of the flu, immunization reduces that risk by 50%. (But you’re older and wiser than me, so the decision is totally up to you)

If you have an infant, they should be immunized. Remember that 50% efficacy number? Influenza in infants can be fatal. I’d love to tell you that the flu shot protects your infant 100%, but a 50% reduction in the risk of death is still a worthwhile investment. Heck, I’d take a 1% reduction in the chance of my baby dying!

You’re an important CEO or startup founder

Your time is very valuable and your wellness is key to millions of dollars of shareholder value. You should probably get the flu shot. If it reduces the chance of you getting sick by 50%, or it reduces duration of illness from 8 days to 4, that’s a worthwhile ROI.

Does the flu vaccine cause disease X, Y, or Z?

It 100% doesn’t cause autism. It doesn’t cause the flu either, even though you or your friend or roommate or whomever once “Got the flu from the flu shot”. (What really happened there is that they got a cold or flu from someone, around the same time, and assumed causality. If that happened to you I’ll probably never convince you it wasn’t the shot!) Since the (injectable) vaccine doesn’t have active flu virus in it, it can’t reproduce and thus you can’t get flu from it.)

How much does it cost?

$0. If you have any sort of insurance, it’s probably free because it’s a legal mandate in most places to cover vaccinations. I have a cheapo high-deductible plan, and insurance still covered the shot at Walgreens for $0.

Questions, comments, or special circumstances?

Let me know, and I’ll try to get you an answer. Otherwise, be safe out there, and cover your sneezes!

Doctor, Reader, Thinker

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