Annual Flu Shots Benefit Individuals, Communities, And Nations Because High Vaccination Rates Reduce Influenza Infection And Help With Herd Immunity
“Everyone who has died from the flu caught it from someone else.” ~ Attributed to the Surgeon General
Pegasus skilled in-home caregivers in Sylmar and elsewhere know the importance of annual vaccination against influenza. Their goal is to protect themselves and their senior clientele. Our career home health care nurses explain how getting a flu shot benefits the community as well as individuals.
Currently, people are focused on the Covid-19 pandemic. Most are protecting themselves by getting vaccinated. They’re also adhering to guidelines like social distancing and wearing masks.
Covid-19 Guidelines Temporarily Reduced The Incidence Of Influenza
The number of individuals with the flu in the 2020-21 season decreased from prior years. That’s primarily because Covid-19 pandemic guidelines also reduced exposure to the flu virus. A record number of people additionally got their flu shots.
Experts predict that the 2021-22 flu season could be significantly worse. They cite several reasons, among which are:
- Increased vulnerability – fewer cases last season mean that there’s less natural immunity.
- Relaxation of pandemic restrictions – people are not currently wearing masks or staying six feet apart as diligently as they did last year.
- Reopening of schools – school children spread viruses.
Covid-19 cases are beginning to increase at the time of this writing, leading individuals to resume precautions. That, as well as influenza vaccinations, could again mean fewer incidences of flu.
Herd Immunity Reduces Viral Infections
In the past year or so, the expression “herd immunity” has become a familiar phrase. Some experts tend to prefer “community immunity” or “population immunity.” Regardless of which terminology is used, it defines a crucial concept.
Herd immunity means that enough people are immune to a specific virus that it doesn’t spread. Immunity is achieved through previous exposure to the virus or vaccination.
The percentage of immune individuals needed to avoid widespread infection varies according to the virus. Some viruses mutate so slowly that an infection or vaccination provides long-term protection. Others, like the influenza virus, mutate frequently, and individuals only have short-term immunity.
Influenza Viruses Mutate In Two Ways
Antigenic drift is generally an evolution of changes in the virus. The first changes may not be significant enough to require a new vaccine. But as the changes accumulate, vaccines have to be modified to be effective.
Antigenic shift describes a sudden and rapid change in a virus. For example, antigenic shifts occur when an animal influenza virus becomes infectious in humans. Prior vaccines or infections do not provide immunity.
Scientists analyze the changes in influenza viruses all year long. They then formulate a vaccine they think will provide immunity in the upcoming flu season. Because of the relentless mutations in the virus, individuals must get a new vaccine each year.
Achieving herd immunity requires a virus that:
- Has a slow rate of mutation.
- Human immune systems can identify.
- Is not transmitted to humans from animals or birds.
Influenza viruses do not meet any of these criteria. Every individual case of the flu is an opportunity for the virus to mutate. Reducing mutations potentially increases the likelihood of immunity.
A high vaccination rate can slow the antigenic drift mutations. Flu pandemics in the past resulted from vaccination rates that rarely exceeded 40%. Studies show that an 80% vaccination rate is the minimum needed to achieve herd immunity against influenza.
Influenza Vaccinations Protect Everyone
As a home health care nurse, you are probably familiar with the toll influenza takes on individuals. You know that getting annual flu shots help people avoid getting the flu. Or if they do get sick, it’s only a mild case.
You also realize that flu shots help protect everyone that an infected individual comes in contact with. Asymptomatic individuals can quickly spread the influenza virus. They are unaware of doing so and may inadvertently infect dozens of others.
Vaccinations reduce the rate of infection. That’s crucial for an individual’s well-being. But on a larger scale, getting vaccinated benefits all of humanity. The fewer cases of influenza, the fewer the mutations, and the greater the chance of developing an effective vaccine.
An effective universal vaccine could provide immunity against both antigenic drift and antigenic shift mutations. Flu could join the ranks of diseases like smallpox and polio that are close to eradication. Until then, it benefits everyone if you get annual flu shots and encourage others to follow suit.
Pegasus is a licensed Home Care Organization and a Joint Commission Accredited Home Health Care organization. Everything that our experienced in-home caregivers in Sylmar and our other locations do has the goal of keeping patients healthy. Our career home health care nurses know that improving everyone’s quality of life includes getting annual flu shots.