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NIVW Op Ed from HHS Region 10

This month, as you’re working on your new year’s resolutions, make this resolution for your health, your family’s health and the health of your community.  During National Influenza Vaccination Week, Jan.10–16, get vaccinated against H1N1 influenza.

This year’s flu season has been dominated by the H1N1 strain, which appeared last April and caused the first flu pandemic in 40 years.  By the middle of November, we had already seen approximately 47 million cases of H1N1 flu, more than 200,000 hospitalizations and almost 10,000 deaths nationwide.

And it’s not over yet. Seasonal flu typically peaks in February and March and can last until May.  We could still see additional waves of H1N1; we could see seasonal flu strains begin to spread in addition to the pandemic H1N1 strain.

Many people convince themselves they don’t need to get vaccinated against the flu, saying:

  • “It’s not worth my time—it’s just the flu.”
  • “How can I be sure these vaccines are safe?” and,
  • “I probably won’t even get the flu.”

These excuses don’t stand up to the facts.

No flu should ever be dismissed as “just the flu.”  It’s a serious disease, and while many cases are mild, some can be deadly.  Seasonal flu is responsible for 36,000 deaths every year—mainly people 65 and older.

H1N1, however, targets young people.  The CDC estimates over 1,000 people under 18 have died.  Some of them were perfectly healthy when they caught the flu.

For decades, vaccines have been the safest and most effective means of preventing this very serious illness.  Every year, millions of Americans are vaccinated against seasonal flu safely.  We make H1N1 vaccine exactly the same way we make seasonal flu vaccines.

We have safety monitoring systems that enable physicians and government officials to detect rare side effects quickly.  To date, flu vaccine has not been a cause for concern.  More than 60 million people have gotten vaccinated against the H1N1 flu so far, so we know the vaccine continues to be safe and effective.

Once the flu hits a community, everyone is at risk.  But according to a leading expert panel, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, certain people are at greater risk of serious complications than others.  They include pregnant women, who can become very ill very quickly; children and teens; people with chronic illness, like asthma, heart disease or diabetes; people who care for babies less than 6 months (these babies are too young to be vaccinated), and health care workers and emergency responders who work with vulnerable people every day.

There is enough H1N1 vaccine right now for all who want to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.  It comes in two versions:  flu shots and nasal spray.  So far, more than 130 million doses have been allocated to state and local health departments.

While flu cases have been slowing down recently in many areas of the country, the flu is unpredictable and getting the H1N1 vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Please take advantage of National Influenza Vaccination Week and get vaccinated.  Find out where vaccine is available near you by calling your local health department, or go to www.flu.gov and click on the vaccine locator.

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