It’s no secret that many patients don’t take the annual vaccine for influenza as seriously as their physicians would like. During the 2019-20 flu season, just over half of Americans 6 months or older – 51.8% – got their flu shots, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That was up 2.6% from the previous season.
“The bottom line is that [patients] don’t understand the importance,” said Austin family physician Lamia Kadir, MD. “I’m constantly educating them.”
Part of the problem is that flu shots’ effectiveness can vary from season to season. Each year, vaccine makers must predict a few months ahead of time which flu strains will be most prevalent during the upcoming flu season. If they choose incorrectly, the shot is less helpful at stopping flu.
In years they choose correctly, the flu vaccine reduces the risk of illness by between 40% and 60%, according to CDC. If they choose incorrectly, the vaccine’s effectiveness can be lower.
That leads many patients to wrongly believe a flu shot isn’t worth the effort, Dr. Kadir says. She frequently must educate patients about community immunity – the idea that enough in a population become vaccinated that a disease has nowhere to spread.
Influenza is so common that many patients see it as an annoyance, not a deadly disease, Dr. Kadir says. In reality, during the 2019-20 influenza season for instance, influenza was associated with 38 million illnesses, 18 million medical visits, 405,000 hospitalizations, and 22,000 deaths nationwide, according to CDC.
Many patients also don’t understand that a flu shot is their best chance to mitigate the symptoms if they do catch the illness.
“I tell them, ‘I can’t promise you won’t get it, but I can promise you won’t suffer [as much] with it,’” she said.