Karen Fratti
Updated Dec 14, 2017 @ 5:55 pm
Credit: Vladimir Nenov / Contributor

Already, health officials are predicting that the flu virus is going to be more aggressive than usual, so if you haven’t gotten one yet, you should definitely get a flu shot. We’re already way into flu season, but if you forgot to get a shot earlier in the fall, you can get one now, since the Food and Drug Administration says that the shots are effective for as long as the flu is going around.

Officials advice that you really should get a flu shot every single year, even if you swear up and down that you never get sick. This is because the flu vaccine, like all other vaccines, isn’t just about you. It’s about everyone you come into contact with, especially people with weakened immune systems, like the elderly, pregnant, or kids who are too young to get vaccinated. Since it’s really easy to mistake common cold symptoms with flu symptoms, people with the flu often don’t force themselves to stay home right away, thus risking contaminating others.

It might sound like we’re overreacting, but the flu can be so dangerous for even healthy people, and you want to make sure that you’re protecting yourself and everyone around you. The flu isn’t just a really bad cold — it’s a virus that can cause life-threatening respiratory problems, among other things, and land you in the hospital.

Fact check: The flu vaccine doesn’t give you the flu. Some people have a reaction that includes some aches that last for, tops, a day or two, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while some people might appear to get the flu even though they’ve been vaccinated, it’s more likely they picked up something else that looks a lot like the flu. In any case, the CDC says that if the vaccine doesn’t “work,” it can at least make the flu symptoms milder and less likely to lead to hospitalization or death. You can also have the flu and not show any symptoms, which means you could pass it to someone without even knowing. Vaccines, especially the flu vaccine, are your friends.

Also, BTW, the flu is no joke this year.

Strains of the flu can mutate, which is why last year’s flu vaccine was only 42 percent effective. According to a new study published this week, experts are worried that this year will be similar, since there have already been instances of people having a strain of the flu that the vaccine doesn’t target. Experts found that in Australia, where flu season is just ending and they use the same type of vaccine we do, the flu vaccine was only 10 percent effective. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to your local clinic, doctor, or pharmacy to get one.

CDC officials told ABC News, “However imperfect, though, current influenza vaccines remain a valuable public health tool, and it is always better to get vaccinated than not to get vaccinated.” The CDC estimates that even though the flu was mutating while it was spreading around, the vaccine still prevented 30 percent of hospitalizations last year and reduced visits to the doctor by 42 percent. That’s worth it, especially for people whose health care isn’t the greatest.

People truly do die fro the flu all the time. In fact, another study published this month by the CDC found that a lot more people likely die from complications from the flu than previously thought. In a survey of medical data from 33 countries, the CDC found that the flu likely kills anywhere from 291,000 and 646,000 each year, which is more than the previously estimated 250,000 and 500,000 casualties, worldwide. In the U.S., about 6,000 are estimated to die each year from the flu, although since not every case is documented, the number could be higher.

It’s even scarier than it sounds, since it’s not just elderly people who die from the flu.

Last year, a 17-year-old high school athlete died from the flu, and she wasn’t previously sick or anything. Her mother told NBC News that she had some symptoms and they went to a retail clinic to get diagnosed. “Later out through the week she wasn’t getting any better. Then early Saturday morning she asked for help to go to the bathroom and when she got up she was having trouble breathing. Then, a few minutes later that’s when she stopped breathing, and they couldn’t do anything to bring her back when the ambulance picked her up,” she said.

The most awful thing about any flu death — let alone thousands of them — is that we know at least one broadly effective way to prevent them. The Affordable Care Act requires the flu shot to be free, so all you have to do is even walk into a drugstore like CVS or Walgreens and get one. Public health officials literally do everything they can to make flu shots accessible. Even many homeless shelters and churches run flu shot programs.

Yet with the rise of the anti-vaccine movement, more and more people just aren’t getting the flu shot. There is no evidence that the flu shot is dangerous, even for pregnant women. So if you missed out on the first round this fall, just go get one. You might get a cool Band-Aid and an excuse to treat yourself to lunch for getting stuck with a needle. And you might just save yourself, and everyone who comes into contact with you, from getting dangerously sick this winter.