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Editorial: Roll up your sleeves and get a flu shot

A nurse’s Facebook post about influenza is going viral – and so is the flu.

Amanda Bitz wrote a piece about the urgency of getting vaccinated against the flu that has been shared 81,000 times. Her message is worth repeating: “The flu shot is not always about you,” she wrote. “It’s about protecting those around you, who cannot always protect themselves.”

More than half the people in the United States don’t get an annual flu shot, which is absurd. Coming down with the flu is an inconvenience for some, a source of suffering and risk of death for others.

“Young children, women who are pregnant, people over the age of 65 and people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease or lung disease have a higher risk of developing severe flu complications,” Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said in a statement released last week.

Burstein and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly recommend getting the vaccine during October. Anyone 6 months of age or older is urged to be vaccinated, with few exceptions.

“Every year we see deaths because of flu and flu complications, and this vaccine will reduce your risk for getting the flu and also protect those around you who might not be able to get the vaccine because of their young age or a medical condition,” Burstein said.

Bitz, the Facebook author, put it in more vivid terms.

Getting vaccinated, Bitz wrote, is “for the grandparents, whose bodies are not what they used to be, and they just can’t kick an illness in the butt like when they were young. For the 30-year-old, with HIV or AIDS, who has a weakened immune system. For the 25-year-old mother of three who has cancer. She has absolutely zero immune system because of chemotherapy.”

Facebook, of course, can also turn into an unmediated slag heap of disinformation. The responses to Bitz’s post included anti-vaccine hokum – which is debunked by science – as well as some of the common myths about flu shots. One of the most widely held misbeliefs is that getting a flu shot can give you the flu. It’s not so. Some individuals may get mild symptoms resembling a cold after the shot, but the virus it uses is dead and cannot give anyone influenza.

It’s true that it’s possible to get the flu after getting the shot. The vaccine is not infallible and it cannot repel every possible strain of influenza that one may encounter. But the odds of getting sick with the flu are reduced after getting the vaccine, which is tailored to the most common strains in a given year.

Flu season begins in October and typically lasts into March. Last year influenza caused up to 61,200 deaths and up to 647,000 hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Are we really the “City of Good Neighbors” if we aren’t doing all we can to keep Buffalo and the region flu-free?

“I have been in the room as a patient has passed away, because of influenza,” Bitz wrote. “I have watched patients struggle to breathe, because of influenza. … Herd immunity is a thing. Influenza killing people is a thing. You getting the flu shot should be a thing.”

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