If you’re considering skipping your flu shot this year, time to reconsider.

Quick notes:

  • The flu isn’t something to take lightly. It claims a lot of victims each season and can be dangerous if not deadly.

  • The flu shot is easy to obtain and typically covered by insurance policies, so it doesn’t cost much.

  • The flue shot DOES make a difference. It prevents hospital visits and saves lives.

As each year’s flu season approaches, doctors take care to offer almost every patient a flu shot. The vaccination is widely available at doctors’ offices and a variety of medical clinics, including ones located at grocery stores and strip malls. Some employers even offer them at work – bringing qualified providers onto their premises.

Getting vaccinated couldn’t be easier, but even with wide availability and the fact that the cost of the adult flu shot is covered by many major insurance policies, many adults choose to skip it. They may not like to take extra substances or might have heard that the vaccine may not be precisely calibrated enough to protect against that season’s strain.

For all the reasons why people have determined they don’t want a shot, there are more reasons to get one. At the end of any pros and cons discussion, there’s a reason doctors advise people to get it each year. Here’s the lowdown:

Statistics show how prevalent and dangerous the flu is

The flu is nothing to laugh at. Statistics show that it affects between 5 and 20 percent of U.S. residents annually. From 2010 to 2018, between 9.3 and 49 million illness depending on the length of the flu season and how contagious the active strain is.

While most people who contract the flu develop light symptoms, others will have more severe infections. For some, the virus is even fatal. During the 2017-2018 flu season alone,180 children died. Older adults also experienced higher levels of fatalities and complications requiring hospitalization.

Influenza can impact earning, spending, and worker productivity

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The flu virus doesn’t just make sufferers feel lousy; it costs money. Lost wages and diminished worker productivity are one way it makes a fiscal impact to the tune of an estimated $7 billion each year.

Along with these numbers, it can be shocking to realize that in a given year, employees take as many as 17 million sick days to take care of themselves. At the same time, there are also costs for hospital visits and medical care related to the estimated 31.4 million outpatient visits and 200,000 hospitalizations that are a result of the flu each year.

The flu vaccine saves money and boosts health

While the flu can be tough to deal with it, one of the biggest weapons against the virus is the vaccine. It is estimated that during the 2016-2017 virus year, when the effectiveness of the vaccine reached 40%, it prevented 5.3 million cases.

Fewer cases have a significant, positive impact. It means higher productivity and fewer sick days taken. It also translates to money saved in medical costs, co-pays, at the pharmacy and the emergency room.

Using the vaccine keeps loved ones safe

With this evidence, and keeping in mind that getting the vaccine is both easy and inexpensive, it can be hard to justify skipping a dose. On the off chance that these reasons aren’t enough to get you to the doctor’s office, consider that by taking the vaccine, you may be keeping your loved ones safe. This is especially true if you regularly come into contact with the elderly or very young children and babies. You could even be sparing them from severe illness or saving their life.

Sometimes, getting the flu vaccine is about more than just your personal preferences. This is a case where your decision not to vaccinate can get a loved one sick, especially if they’re very young, very old, or pregnant.

Numbers highlight the fact that for those who are very old, very young, or pregnant,  the disease can have serious consequences. These include asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and heart problems. With these kinds of complications possible, approximately 75 to 80 percent of deaths and 50 to 70 percent of hospitalizations occur in these age groups.

Flu cases skyrocketed before vaccinations

To underscore just how serious the flu can be, it helps to look back at the virus’ history. Before the vaccine was developed, communities suffered and thousands of people died. There was nothing that doctors could do other than keep people as comfortable as possible (not an easy task), watch them deteriorate, and try to keep themselves safe as they provided medical care.

One of the most widely known historical incidences of massive flu fatalities was the 1918 epidemic. It affected more than 500 million people which was about a fifth of the world’s population at that time. A tenth of those who were affected died, with about 675,000 fatalities occurring in the U.S.

Other notable 20th-century flu outbreaks took place in Asia, killing millions of victims who had no immunity to the traveling strains. These included the 1957 – 1958 Asian flu and the 1968 Hong Kong flu. These outbreaks killed two million and one million people, respectively. It was believed that the Hong Kong outbreak was less intense because victims had received some immunity from the preceding period of illness.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101

CDC: The benefits of flu vaccination
An overview of why getting your annual vaccination is an important part of staying healthy.

The Guardian: History of major flu pandemics
Some background on what fighting the flu was like before vaccines were widely distributed