There is really no good argument against the jab: a responsible citizen should get the flu vaccine.
Yet the rate for Canadian adults under the age of 65 is just 35 per cent. Among healthcare workers, it is 40 to 50 per cent. That isn't good enough.
Fear of needles is simply no excuse. Nor is the idea that flu cannot happen to you because it never has in the past. Or that it won't harm you. Even if that were true, it can harm others. Every year, 4,000 Canadians, mostly seniors, die of seasonal influenza and another 20,000 people are hospitalized. As Rick Mercer noted in a recent rant, "Even if you are healthy enough to fight the flu, if you get it, chances are you could pass it on to someone who can't fight it. So roll up your sleeves. It's just a little prick. Don't be one, get one."
This year's vaccine, which protects against three strains of influenza including the more virulent H3N2 and H1N1, is well matched to those in circulation, and will reduce the risk of infection by at least 50 per cent, according to a new study.
An inoculation has the added benefit of protecting the vulnerable – seniors, children and those with suppressed immune systems.
So why isn't the uptake greater?
"It takes a long time to adopt preventive practices even if they make sense. We are always inventing reasons not to change our behaviour," says Dr. Alison McGeer, director of infection control at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. Parents readily vaccinate their children against meningitis, yet more children die from flu each year than meningitis.
As if to drive home the point, this year's flu season arrived early and hit hard. The Fraser Health Authority in Vancouver has been forced to declare a health hazard, while Newfoundland is suffering through one of the worst outbreaks in recent years. Toronto Public Health has reported a spike in cases.
Health officials caution that prevention includes frequent handwashing, telecommuting instead of going into the office if you have symptoms – and the vaccine.
A British research paper studying its benefits concluded that if eight health-care workers employed in a chronic-care facility receive the shot, the life of one resident in the facility is saved.
It isn't too late. Flu season lasts until March. The vaccine, which is free, is still available in clinics, doctor's offices and even some pharmacies. Somewhere, somebody will thank you.