The first U.S. flu death of the season has already made headlines 26 days into fall. The victim: an unvaccinated child in Florida. Despite this tragedy, a new survey finds a majority of parents mistrust the flu vaccine.
In the national survey conducted by the Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital, more than half the 700 respondents (who were made up of parents with children under 18) reported they believe their children can contract the flu from the flu vaccine.
More than 80,000 Americans died of the flu last year, including 183 children, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Two-thirds of those children were unvaccinated.
The survey also revealed that over a quarter of parents believed the flu caused autism and 30% believed the flu shot was a conspiracy. But despite these misconceptions, a majority of respondents still said they believed the flu vaccine was the best way to protect their child from the flu.
"The parts of the virus that are used [in the vaccine] are completely dead, so you cannot get the flu from the flu shot," said Dr. Jean Moorjani, a pediatrician at Orlando Health, adding, "You cannot get autism from the flu vaccine.” Dr. Moorjani also dispelled the notion that doctors are part of a conspiracy to recommend the flu vaccine, saying, “Doctors recommend it because we know—based on science, research and facts—that it is the best way to protect yourself and your family against the flu."
Can you still get the flu if you got the flu shot?
While the flu shot is effective, it isn't foolproof. Each year, scientists engineer the vaccine to target the specific flu strains they believe will be prevalent over the course of the flu season, but it's possible that a different strain will emerge. It’s also possible to catch the flu after you get the flu shot because it takes about two weeks for antibodies to build up in your immune system. For this reason, doctors recommend getting the flu shot early in the season.
But even if you do come down with influenza, having received the vaccine can still help. "You'll be sick or your child will still be sick, but they're not going to be nearly as sick as if they had never received the vaccine," Moorjani said.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 5% to 20% of Americans come down with the flu each year; that's 16 to 64 million people. Still, only about 40% of Americans. will get the flu shot.
The more people receive the vaccine each year, the more protected the entire community is from a widespread epidemic, something scientists call herd immunity. In fact, the number of flu-related deaths has significantly decreased since the flu vaccine was approved for the general population in 1946.
Weighing the cost of the flu
If protecting the nation from a flu pandemic isn't high on your bucket list, perhaps the potential cost of coming down with the flu is a more persuasive reason.
The CDC estimates that Americans spend about $10.4 billion each year on hospitalization and outpatient visits for adults who contract the flu virus. How does this break down per person? According to the University of Utah, illness from the flu costs the average person about $130 between visiting the doctor and purchasing medicine.
By comparison, the cost of a flu shot at your local CVS is less than $25, and in many cases, your health insurance provider will cover that fee.