Published October 15, 2021
Every year, experts stress the importance of receiving the influenza vaccine. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about half of the U.S. population receives a flu shot each year.
“I think that is complacency,” says Timothy F. Murphy, SUNY Distinguished Professor and director of UB’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute. “People, say, ‘Well, I have never had the flu.’”
As the nation and the world continue to deal with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts believe receiving the flu vaccine is more important than ever. Murphy, an infectious disease physician scientist, talks with UBNow about why it’s so vital that everyone gets vaccinated against the flu this season.
Staying home and social distancing led to record-low flu cases last year, but numbers are expected to rise this season.
“Last year there was almost no influenza because we were social distancing, we wore masks, and schools and businesses were closed,” Murphy says. “With everyone home, transmission of influenza was reduced in the community. It is very difficult to predict what is going to happen this year, but we are set up for a potentially worse season. It could happen earlier; it could be more severe; it could stretch longer.
“To me, that is a good reason to get vaccinated,” he says. “Let’s not leave ourselves vulnerable to something that is particularly difficult to predict. Something similar happened last year with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in children, and now RSV rates are rising.”
Contracting the flu while COVID-19 is still circulating may lead to serious health complications.
“If you get both influenza and COVID at the same time, it is highly likely that it is going to be a more severe disease,” Murphy explains. “Both are respiratory viruses that have the potential to cause severe disease. Remember, influenza kills 10,000-60,000 people every year, while COVID has killed hundreds of thousands of people in a year and a half. Getting them together, then, is something that we should avoid,” he says.
“In addition, think about the implications for people who have respiratory symptoms. They have to stay home and isolate. So, if we are going to begin to head back toward being able to do more normal things, we need to reduce the likelihood of getting other respiratory tract infections.”
Receiving the flu vaccine is another way to protect yourself and the people around you.
“Studies showed that less illness, less hospitalizations and lower death rates occurred in nursing home residents when vaccines were mandated for nursing home workers,” Murphy notes. “Many of us have contact with our older family members and with other people who are immunocompromised; they are everywhere. I think we have a responsibility to consider getting the flu vaccine to protect our vulnerable and elderly family, coworkers, friends and community members.”
Flu vaccines add another layer of protection to keep children in school.
“All of us are trying to keep kids in school because we know the importance for their mental health, socialization and education. However, we want to do it safely,” Murphy says. “So, any child who gets a respiratory symptom has to stay home — and that complicates things for parents. We know influenza is circulating and we know it is transmitted efficiently among school kids,” he says.
“The more we can prevent that, the more likely we are going to be able to keep kids in school. That is a big reason that we should encourage vaccination in children and their families.”
Flu vaccinations are now available to all members of the UB community — at no cost with insurance — at three on-campus clinics organized by the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
The clinics, located on the North, South and Downtown campuses, are also providing free COVID-19 vaccinations.
To receive a vaccination, students, faculty and staff must present a UB identification card (and insurance card for a flu shot). No appointments are necessary. The clinics will operate each week through Nov. 18.
The schedules are:
For more information on the effectiveness and importance of flu shots, visit the CDC’s website.