Sunday, February 3, 2013

Flu Epidemic

This year, the flu has reached epidemic levels earlier than usual across the United States.  Sarah Kliff posted a blog on the Washington Post website about why 64.8 percent of Americans didn’t receive a flu vaccine.

The Washington Post points out that while 95 percent of students that entered kindergarten last year were vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that only 36.5 percent of Americans received flu vaccinations by November 2012.  That percentage has been rising over the course of the flu season.

This statistic is not new or shocking to researchers.  The Washington Post spoke with Lori Uscher-Pines from the RAND Corp., who has studied flu vaccine rates.  Uscher-Pines points out that adults are not in constant contact with their health-care system like children are, and other than getting the flu; most Americans face no negative consequences if they aren’t vaccinated. But the flu itself can be serious, especially in the very young, elderly, and chronically ill.

The Rand Corp. also found negative perceptions about the flu vaccine in their 2011 study.  Statements like “I don’t need it” and “I don’t believe in flu vaccines” were used by over half of unvaccinated adults in the study.

The flu vaccine does have a lower efficacy than other vaccines; this year’s flu vaccine is 62% effective, whereas the MMR vaccine is 95 percent effective.   This year the flu vaccine is a particularly good match to the season’s influenza virus. There is a much better chance of not getting the flu when vaccinated, so why aren’t more people vaccinated?

Wake Forest University researchers studied flu vaccine trends by having participants play a video game that simulated the spread of the flu.  They earned points by staying healthy, and could use some of those points to buy a vaccine.  If the price of the vaccine was lower, participants were more likely to buy it.  As more people in the game became infected with the flu, vaccination rates increased.

According to the Financially Digital blog, coming down with the flu will cost the average person between $180 and $200.   That cost will rise if a small child is sick with the flu. This figure takes into account: missed work, medicine and other variables.  Neither blog mentioned how miserable being sick with the flu really is.  The protection that high vaccination rates bring to entire communities was also not highlighted. Vaccine Watch recommends making an informed decision about the flu vaccine; the odds are in favor of the vaccine.

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