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Getting your flu shot can save others

Did you know getting your flu shot can potentially save lives? Immunologists refer to a term called “herd immunity” or “community immunity,” which means the majority of a population is vaccinated against a specific illness – in this case, the flu – thereby reducing the entire community’s risk, particularly vulnerable populations. The more people who are vaccinated, the better because it lessens everyone’s chance of exposure to the disease.

“Not everyone can be vaccinated, and not everyone who can be vaccinated gets vaccinated,” says Clarke Latimer, M.D., a family medicine physician at Piedmont. “So, the idea is to vaccinate as many as we can. Last year, there were about 173 children who died from the flu in the U.S., one of the highest death rates ever. Most of those kids were not vaccinated against the flu.”

As the Surgeon General noted, everyone who has died from the flu caught it from someone else.

How does herd immunity work?

Suppose 95 percent of people in a certain population get the flu shot and 5 percent do not. Someone who does not get the vaccination and subsequently gets the flu can infect others in that 5 percent – and they are likely vulnerable populations, like the elderly, infants or those with compromised immune systems (such as people undergoing chemotherapy).

“Babies, older people and those who are already ill are at most risk for flu complications,” he says. “Infants under 6 months can’t be vaccinated. This is why they are one of the highest risk groups there is. By vaccinating the parents and family around those babies and other vulnerable people, we are helping protect the most vulnerable.”

The flu shot’s effectiveness

It is also important to keep in mind that while the flu shot significantly reduces the risk of contracting the flu, it is not 100 percent effective. Therefore, if you don’t get the shot and contract the virus, you can pass it along to even those who did receive the shot. The CDC still encourages people to get vaccinated because the shot can lessen the severity of flu symptoms and protect against other strains of the virus.

“Even though it is not 100 percent effective, it is better than nothing,” says Dr. Latimer. “Think of it this way: Even a 50 percent chance of winning $100 is a good bet, right? The flu shot has better odds than that. And the risks are too high.”

Unless your physician advises you otherwise, it is wise to get a flu shot to drastically reduce your chance of getting the flu and passing it along to others. When the majority of a population gets the flu shot, everyone wins – more people are protected and fewer people get the virus, so fewer can pass it on.

Flu shots are available at Piedmont’s urgent care locations, primary care offices and Piedmont QuickCare at Walgreens locations.   

Dr. Latimer practices at Piedmont Physicians Midtown Family Practice, located 1080 Peachtree Street Northeast, Suite 12, Atlanta, GA 30309. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Latimer or one of our other primary care providers. Save time, book online.

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