Flu shots save lives, just ask the neighborhood pharmacist

Getting the flu shot prevented a flu-like illness for 6.6 million people last season, according to the CDC. In addition, it prevented  3.2 million medically attended illnesses and 79,000 hospitalizations. Not getting the flu shot can have adverse consequences, such as not going on that long-awaited vacation. According to a Walgreens survey, more than 11 million Americans had to change their vacation plans on account of the flu last year, most likely among families that didn't get their flu shots across the board. 

Getting the flu shot works. But how much has being able to get that flu shot at your local retail pharmacy influenced the number of people getting a flu shot? More people are certainly taking advantage of the service. Walgreens recently reported that shots administered at pharmacies and clinics through November were more than 6.1 million versus nearly 4.6 million last year. 

That convenience of getting the flu shot at the local pharmacy benefits pharmacists, too. As of November, out of all healthcare professionals, pharmacists as a group had gotten the most flu shots season to date. "By mid-November we were pretty much where we were the year before, 63% of health care providers had gotten flu vaccine by that point this year just about the same as last year," noted Ann Schuchat, CDC's director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during a press conference on the flu earlier this week. "I really congratulate the pharmacists and want the clinicians, the physicians, nurses, medical assistants, especially the people working in long term care facilities to catch up with the pharmacists," Schuchat challenged. 

North of the border, Shoppers Drug Mart is pushing to enable Canadian pharmacists to administer influenza vaccines, precisely because of the kind of growth rate Walgreens recently experienced. According to the Toronto-based retailer, it is estimated that immunization rates for vaccinations like flu shots would increase by 1% to 3% in Canada if pharmacists were empowered to give flu shots. This could help to reduce the 75,000 hospital admissions attributed to the flu each year, the retailer stated. 

Reducing hospital admissions is a good thing. New York can certainly expect to see its influenza-like illness hospitalizations drop coming into this year's season — the New York Board of Health earlier this week mandated that all children in day care and preschool be inoculated. "Vaccinating children produces 'herd immunity' in the general population," a notice issued by the board earlier this year on a planned meeting about the proposed rule read. "This means that vaccinating children against influenza reduces the number of influenza infections in everyone else, regardless of whether they were vaccinated or not."

And it's never too late to get the flu shot, though as many pharmacists will tell you, sooner is better. You just never know what the season has in store. 

This year, there is not nearly as much flu-like illness circulating as there was this time last year. But that doesn't mean there won't be a robust flu season. "We're not where we were last year.  Last year we already had quite a lot of disease," noted Schuchat. "But we don't know what this flu season will be like because most years, in 90% of years the flu peaks between January and March. So it's not too late to be vaccinated to protect yourself against the flu, but it's too soon for us to tell you what this flu season is going to be like."



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