Go get your flu shot. Yes, you. Now.

Photo by David Reber used under a Creative Commons license
Photo by David Reber used under a Creative Commons license

What’s highly contagious, put over 1,000 people in the hospital and killed nearly 60 people in Oklahoma last year alone?

It’s certainly not Ebola. It is, in fact, the flu – and flu season is upon us. The state recently announced its first confirmed cases this year. That means it’s time for your reminder that the flu is easily transmitted, miserably uncomfortable at best, and deadly at worst.

Fortunately, keeping the flu away requires neither travel bans nor hazmat suits. All it takes is a flu shot, which lessens the likelihood that you’ll get the flu and pass it on. While it’s recommended that everyone get vaccinated, it’s strongly recommended for particular groups: children age 6 months to 4 years; adults age 50 and older; people with chronic disorders or who are immunodepressed; pregnant women; and nursing home residents and health care personnel. But seriously, everyone should get one. And that includes you*.

Aside from the joys of a) not having the flu, and b) not passing it on to anybody else, there are other benefits of being vaccinated. Flu epidemics are expensive and disruptive. In the US, only about 58 percent of adults got the flu vaccine. Among working-aged adults, the flu is responsible for 17 million lost workdays and $6.2 billion in lost productivity. That’s on top of a national direct medical cost of $8.7 billion. It’s estimated that every dollar spent on vaccinations saves $18.40 in direct medical costs and losses due to death, disability and missed work and productivity. That’s a great return on investment. And entirely coincidentally, flu symptoms and early Ebola symptoms, such as fever and body aches, are  nearly identical. You don’t want to be in an ER waiting room with a bunch of people who all think they might have Ebola. You don’t want to be in an ER waiting room thinking you might have Ebola. You really, really don’t.

Vaccinations are widely available now, and while CDC strongly recommends that everyone should have gotten one by October, it’s not too late to still get one. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, flu shots are available without a copay for people with health insurance. They’re reasonably affordable for many even without insurance: Walgreens charges just over $30, CVS throws in a 20 percent shopping pass, and the Tulsa Health Department has a limited number of no-cost vaccinations available for people who meet certain criteria. You can use HealthMap’s Vaccine Finder to look for a provider near you and compare prices.

While the flu shot can come with some side effects for a few hours following the vaccination, including fever and aches, those side effects are far less uncomfortable and disruptive than a full-blown case of influenza. Dislike needles? You have options. Don’t think vaccines work? You are incorrect

But wait, there’s more: because of something called herd immunity, vaccines work best when a critical mass has been vaccinated. You can read more about herd immunity here, but the takeaway is that it’s not quite enough to get a flu shot yourself. Bring a friend, too.

*Unless you are an infant under six months in age, in which case we congratulate you on your precocity for reading this blog (have you signed up for our emails?) and excuse you from this assignment

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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