An illustration shows a person surrounded by the flu virus.
The best way to protect yourself from the uncertainties of flu season? A vaccination. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

If you’re on the fence about getting flu shots this year, consider these facts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Influenza can lead to hospitalization and sometimes death.
  • Up to 90 percent of flu-related deaths occur in people age 65 and older.
  • Last year, the flu killed more than 140 children in the U.S.
  • About 20,000 children age 5 and younger are hospitalized each year because of flu complications.
  • Children younger than 2 years old are most severely impacted by the flu.
  • Children with asthma, diabetes and disorders of the brain or nervous system are at particular risk.
  • Pregnant women are susceptible to complications from influenza. Immunization can reduce these complications and also help protect a woman’s newborn child.
  • When immunization prevents the flu in one individual, it can ultimately keep the virus from spreading to family members and other contacts.

According to the CDC, last year’s flu vaccine did not protect against viruses that were significant variations from the expected strain of H3N2 virus. It did, however, protect against the vaccine-like strains. (The CDC website provides a useful primer on how viruses can change.)

“It is expected that, periodically, seasonal strains of influenza virus will have a major shift,” said David Dobbie, MD, the medical director of pharmacy and hospital epidemiologist at Spectrum Health. “It is not predictable in which year this will occur. …Unfortunately, the predominant influenza virus strain last year changed significantly enough that the 2014-15 influenza vaccine did not provide good protection against that particular strain.”

The strains of virus used in seasonal flu vaccines are reassessed each year. This year, two of the vaccine strains have been changed.

“We have every expectation that this year’s influenza vaccine will provide significantly better protection than last year,” said Ryan Foster, director of the Spectrum Health Pharmacy. “Even if individuals who receive the vaccine contract influenza, they are much less likely to develop complications from their influenza infection.”

Flu season begins as early as October and can last well into May.

The number and severity of seasonal flu cases can vary greatly from year to year, according to the CDC, and the numbers bear this out. From 1976 to 2007, the estimated number of annual flu-related deaths in the U.S. ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000.

Clearly, people who choose to get the flu vaccine as soon as possible are making the right choice, Foster said.

“It’s part of doing all that we can to reduce the risk of influenza infection in ourselves and those around us,” he said.

Spectrum Health offers three ways to get a flu shot:

  • Make an appointment with your Spectrum Health Medical Group primary care provider.
  • Visit one of the many clinics the Spectrum Health Visiting Nurse Association hosts in West Michigan communities during the initial flu months.
  • Find a Spectrum Health Urgent Care Center near you.