According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 29 U.S. states have seen high levels of influenza so far this season, and an additional nine states are reporting moderate levels. As public health officials previously forecast, that makes the current flu season a particularly early and active one.
Nevertheless, well less than half of Americans are getting their flu shots, despite some of the potentially fatal risks of complications from influenza:
“Influenza causes death often through its complications,” said Lyn Finelli, who tracks flu for the CDC. “Especially in the elderly, influenza causes death through pneumonia and through exacerbation of chronic underlying conditions.”
Eighteen children have died from influenza-related illnesses since the flu season began.
“It’s an extremely early flu season,” said Finelli. “In fact, we’re about five weeks ahead of schedule this year.”
Since 2010, the CDC has recommended flu shots for everyone over the age of six months. Yet only 37 percent of Americans have been vaccinated this season, which is about average.
Last year, an estimated 42 percent of Americans received their flu vaccinations, roughly keeping in line with historical trends. Part of the problem may stem from the fact that low-income Americans can’t always access affordable flu vaccinations, an issue that could be addressed by allowing more local pharmacies to provide vaccinations. Thanks to Obamacare, annual flu shots are now designated as free preventative services for elderly Americans under Medicare, a group that is at high risk for infection.
But a larger — and more inscrutable — roadblock might be Americans’ ambivalence towards vaccinations in general. A Harvard study during the 2009–2010 swine flu pandemic showed that a full 58 percent of Americans either flat out refused to get vaccinated or were unsure of whether or not they would get vaccinated. The reticence arose from false perceptions of vaccines as potentially dangerous, disease-causing medical tools.
In reality, getting the flu vaccine does not result in being infected with influenza, and health care professionals agree that getting a flu vaccine is the number one way to prevent infection.