With another flu season almost upon us, the annual debate over the flu shot has resurfaced.  Naysayers point out the ineffectiveness of last year’s flu vaccine — the strain that sickened many didn’t match the strain the vaccine protected against, resulting in flu-related hospitalizations hitting a 9-year high. If I got the flu shot last year and still came down with the flu, why bother with the shot this year?   Another argument cites the theory of “herd immunity.”  If everyone around me is vaccinated, I’ll be protected too.

This is dangerous logic, especially when it relates to children. The CDC points to several key groups at high risk for developing flu-related complications.  First on this list is children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2.  At this young age, kids lack fully-developed immune systems needed to fight the virus.  The result is hospitalization and, in worst-case-scenarios, death.  

Risk is further escalated for children who have complex medical conditions. The CDC describes this high-risk group as “people who have neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions, including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, stroke, intellectual disability, moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury.”

Sound familiar?  It should. This is the exact patient population treated at Gillette.  These patients fall into not one, but TWO high-risk groups:  children and people who have disabilities. For medically fragile children, vaccination isn’t a question.  It’s a necessity.  And for those around them, it’s a responsibility. “I can’t tell you how many patients I see who’ve experienced severe complications resulting from influenza,” says Scott Schwantes, M.D., pediatrician and palliative care physician.  “For children already dealing with a host of other health issues, the flu can take the body to its breaking point.”   

While not 100 percent foolproof, a flu vaccination is your and your child’s best protection against a serious — and preventable — illness this fall and winter.  So let’s team up, get vaccinated, and help protect those in our community who are most vulnerable.

Image: Barbara Joers, Gillette president and CEO, gets her flu shot.

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