Health experts across the country now recommend that everyone six months and older get a flu vaccine according to the Florida Department of Health. The health department is broadcasting the word to all Florida counties that an annual flu vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu and the flu-related complications that could lead to hospitalization and even death.
The Centers for Disease Control is broadcasting this same message in its public information updates concerning the 2013–2014 flu season stating, “CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. While there are many different flu viruses, the flu vaccine is designed to protect against the three main flu strains that research indicates will cause the most illness during the flu season. Getting the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available each year is always a good idea, and the protection you get from vaccination will last throughout the flu season.”
This represents a departure from past years’ concentration on recommending flu vaccines just for high risk groups. Over the years scientists and public health experts have come to recognize even while influenza is especially dangerous for certain high risk classes of people it has the potential to cause severe illness and even death for anyone whether they have high risk conditions or not. Healthy people of any age can get extremely sick from influenza. It is among the most common respiratory illnesses in the United States. It infects millions of people every flu season.
According to Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, one of the biggest problems with fighting flu epidemics is the uncertainty of the disease.
Schuchat explains, “Flu viruses are constantly changing. Each flu season, different flu viruses can spread, and they can affect people differently based on their body’s ability to fight infection.”
The CDC also is addressing questions many people have about whether or not a vaccine is needed every year.
According to the CDC, “Multiple studies conducted over different seasons and across vaccine types and influenza virus subtypes have shown that the body’s immunity to influenza viruses (acquired either through natural infection or vaccination) declines over time. The decline in antibodies is influenced by several factors, including the antigen used in the vaccine, age of the person being vaccinated, and the person’s general health (for example, certain chronic health conditions may have an impact on immunity). When most healthy people with regular immune systems are vaccinated, their bodies produce antibodies and they are protected throughout the flu season, even as antibody levels decline over time. People with weakened immune systems may not generate the same amount of antibodies after vaccination; further, their antibody levels may drop more quickly when compared to healthy people.”
The CDC emphasizes that for everybody the best protection against influenza comes from getting vaccinated each year, even if the viruses in the vaccine have not changed from the previous season.
Statistics cited by the health department dramatize the unpredictability of influenza. During the period 1976 to 2007, estimated seasonal flu deaths in the U.S. ranged from a low of about 3,000 people to a high of about 49,000. More than 200,000 people are estimated to be hospitalized annually for flu-related complications.
The health department emphasizes getting a flu vaccine today is far easier and more convenient than in past years. Vaccines are available through many if not most major retail pharmacy systems, and also are offered by many employers, schools, colleges and universities.
Certain people should not get a flu vaccine, such as those who have had a severe reaction to a flu vaccine or any of its components in the past. Further information on who should and who should not get vaccinated is available online at cdc.gov and by phone at (800) 232-4636.