That magical time of year is nearly upon us once again: flu season. With this year set to be yet another nasty one, many people will be flocking to the doctors to get their influenza jab.
As highlighted by a new study, this jab could have some impressive social benefits. Reporting in the Journal of Human Resources, a researcher estimates that just a 1 percent increase in the vaccination rate results in 795 fewer deaths every year. Furthermore, it also saves around 14.5 million fewer work hours lost due to illness.
“In monetary terms, the estimates suggest that each vaccination confers at least $63 in social benefits due to reduced mortality and $87 in terms of reduced work absences,” study author Corey White, an assistant professor of Economics at California Polytechnic State University, writes in the paper.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between 3 and 11 percent of the US population falls sick with influenza each year, with many more acting as carriers without symptoms, amounting to between 12,000 and 79,000 deaths annually.
Most infections occur in elderly people, aged 75 or over, and other “high risk” groups such as children under 5, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems. This new research suggests that old people reap most of the benefits of widespread flu vaccines in a population. As one of the groups that are most susceptible to the virus, elderly people experience a notably lower risk of hospitalization and death with an increase in flu vaccinations in a population.
Unlike most other vaccinations you’ll receive throughout your life, the influenza vaccine has to be administered each year to be effective. This is because there are many strains of the virus and they're capable of evolution continuously. Therefore, the vaccine has to be administered with the knowledge of this season's upcoming strains.
Even if you’re relatively healthy and don’t fall into this “high risk” group, getting a flu shot can also decrease the overall spread of influenza, which is good news for vulnerable people. That in mind, some recent research – most prominently, three independent reviews by Cochrane – of the influenza vaccine in healthy adults has suggested that it's not necessary for the whole population to receive a vaccination as a routine public health measure. For more information on whether you should get a flu vaccine this year, visit your doctor or check out the CDC website on the issue.