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Don’t worry, it’s not too late to get a flu shot

Posted on Jan. 10, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

Influenza kills thousands of people each winter in the United States — between 3,000 and 49,000, depending on the year. It’s already killed 10 people in Indiana. Two of the victims were under 18, The Associated Press reported. Eight were older than 50.

Health officials call this winter’s outbreak one of the worst in years. So it is time to take steps to protect yourself and the rest of the community — it’s time to get a flu shot, if you haven’t already.

Eight nurses made international headlines for refusing, on religious grounds, to take flu shots and lost their jobs at IU Health Goshen Hospital. They made their choice. But the hospital put the well-being of its patients above all else, which is its only possible response to a serious public health threat.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends flu shots for all hospital staff, volunteers and vendors. For good reason. Flu vaccinations limit outbreaks and save lives.

Some opponents claim flu shots give them the flu. It doesn’t. If you got sick after an earlier flu shot, it’s because you were exposed to an influenza virus during the two weeks it takes for the vaccine to provide immunity, you caught a non-flu virus, or you were hit by a strain of flu virus not in the vaccine.

Opponents claim that the vaccine is unsafe because multi-dose vials contain thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative. The CDC, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health reviewed published research on thimerosal and found it safe for use in vaccines. So did three independent health organizations — the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Single-dose vaccine units do not contain thimerosal. Neither does the nasal spray vaccine. So, even if you reject the body of evidence documenting its safety, you can still get a flu vaccination that does not include thimerosal.

Some opponents claim a link between thimerosal and autism. Studies find no such relationship, according to the CDC.

When flu vaccines match the viruses that emerge, the CDC says that they’re 60 to 70 percent effective in preventing influenza. Flu shots significantly reduce suffering and death; they keep kids in school and workers on the job.

The outbreak has started, but it’s not too late to get flu shot. If you don’t, you’re putting your health at risk — and the health of the entire community, as well.


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