Gambling on When to Get the Flu Vaccine is a Losing Bet
Guessing when the flu season will hit is a bit like playing the lottery, according to an analysis of confirmed cases of the flu in New York state that was summarized by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.
“To borrow the New York Lottery’s expression, ‘Hey, you never know,’” said Martin Lustick, M.D., Excellus BCBS Senior Vice President, Corporate Medical Director.
Excellus BCBS conducted a review of state statistics on confirmed cases of the flu for the past four years and found wide variations on when the flu begins to peak. For example, during the 2012-2013 flu season, the virus hit state residents hardest in December and January, and then diminished month-by-month through May. But last flu season, the wave of cases hit hardest in February, peaked in March, and ended with the highest number of reported flu cases in years for the months of April and May.
“Some common myths about flu shots are about their timing and effectiveness,” Lustick said. “Many people incorrectly think that once the flu season has started, it’s too late for the vaccination to work. We’ve also heard people incorrectly assume that they should wait until later in the season to get their flu vaccination in order for it to last through May and beyond.”
According to Lustick, as long as the flu viruses are circulating, people who haven’t been vaccinated are at risk of getting sick. He also stressed that in most cases, getting the vaccine early, including in September, will provide immunity for the entire flu season.
On average, 45,000 New Yorkers get the flu each year. Nationwide, the flu virus causes 200,000 hospitalizations and nearly 24,000 deaths each year, so Lustick cautions that the flu is not a virus to be considered lightly.
Excellus BCBS displayed its findings in a graphic illustration that is being shared with physician offices and pharmacies in the upstate regions the health insurer serves to help encourage people to get their flu shots as early as possible. A poster version is available for free download.