A few weeks ago, I asked people on my Facebook page to answer a survey on why they do or do not get the yearly flu vaccination. I will not publish their answers, however, I will do an analysis on the data. Quick disclaimer: This survey does not represent any particular population, nor was it intended to. It was intended as a quick way to gather responses on why people do or do not get vaccinated and why.
I asked two questions. Question 1 was, “Do you get a flu shot?” Question 2 was, “Why do you or don’t you get the flu shot?” Thirty people answered the first question, and 28 people answered the second. 20 people answered “yes” to question 1, and 11 answered “no.” That does not add up to 30, but 31, and this is because I accidentally allowed people to select both “yes” and “no.” Taking out the extra responses, we have 19 yes and 10 no. This results in 65.5% of respondents saying “yes” 34.5% of respondents saying “no.”
Now for a breakdown of the free-response questions. The answers were generalized as much as possible to protect the anonymity of the survey-taker without compromising the message that the person was trying to get across.
7: Personal Health as well as health of others
6: Personal Health
3: Employment or Parent Required
2: Free and convenient
2: Never gotten the flu shot
2: Never had the flu/ already have a good immune system
2: Not convenient enough and flu is not severe enough
1: Doctor Recommended
1: Only when convenient
1: Personal choice (No)
The most common answer by far was for the respondent’s personal health, as well as the health of others. Seven respondents said this, and I feel that it was distinct from the six responses stating that it was for their personal health. The important distinction is the part about the “health of others.” I wrote about this briefly in my last post. It is called herd immunity, and if you don’t want to read my previous post, I will briefly describe it later on.
The third most common answer is that it was required by someone. This isn’t exactly an optimal reason, but the important part is that a flu shot was received.
The next is that it was free and convenient. I think this is one of the most important points, especially considering five respondent, making up one-sixth of the survey, mentioned the importance of conveniency. It is very important that the flu shot become as quick as possible, as the more convenient it is, the more people will get it. I will also add here that if someone has never gotten the flu shot before, it is harder to get it, because one does not really know what the process entails until they get one. If they knew getting the shot was easy, they may be more likely to get it. The goal is obviously to get the flu shot to as many people as possible, and in my opinion, the conveniency is likely the most important factor.
Four of the responses state that the flu shot is unnecessary, or that they have a good enough immune system that they do not need it. This is where I will discuss the importance of herd immunity. Again, I covered this in the last post, but here is a quick summary.
Herd immunity is the idea that if almost every individual in a population is immune or resistant to a disease, then those who would be greatly affected by the disease would be unlikely to contract it. This applies to all diseases, especially the flu. If everyone who was medically able to got the flu shot, then those who had a poor immune system, like babies or the elderly would be protected from the flu. The most common misconception about the flu shot is that it is for the person having the shot administered. This is true, but more importantly, the flu shot is for those who, for one reason or another, have a compromised immune system.
If there is one thing I could say to people reading this, it is this: The flu vaccine (as well as other vaccines) is, most importantly, for those who are weaker immunologically than you. By getting a flu shot, you are not only helping yourself, but helping everyone on the plant.
Now that that has been said, here is another important point about flu vaccines in particular. There is a reason that it is recommended for people to get a flu shot yearly, rather than once. This is because the flu virus is highly mutagenic. Essentially what this means is this: the kind of flu virus that one person may be infected with is relatively likely to change while in that person’s body, and when this virus comes into contact with another person, it could be an entirely new flu virus. This means that even if you have had the flu before, you may not be protected from new strains of flu.
When the flu vaccine is made every year, immunologists predict which strains of flu virus will appear every year. By getting your flu shot, you are preventing these flu virus strains from infecting people, but you are also doing something much more important: You are helping prevent new strains of flu viruses from being created. If you get the flu vaccine, you are much more unlikely to pass a flu virus on to another person. This also reduces the chance of a new strain being created. If fewer strains are created, the vaccines will be more effective, and if they are more effective, fewer people will become infected with the flu. Do you see where this is going? If every able person got the flu vaccine every year, the flu could become a disease of the past, similar to polio. At least I hope. The reality is, it will probably always be present. But by being vaccinated, you reduce the effect of the flu worldwide.
I sincerely hope that those of you reading this seriously consider getting the yearly flu vaccine. In summation, by being vaccinated, you help yourself as well as others, and help stop the flu virus. Remember that it is still not too late to become vaccinated for this flu season. If you are still uneasy about the flu vaccine, it is best to talk to your family medical practitioner about the flu shot, and ask them about their opinion. If you want to do your own research, the best and most trustworthy place to do so is here: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm. Thank you for reading, and I hope you thoughtfully consider your reasons for getting or not getting the flu shot.