With both COVID-19 and the flu circulating this fall, it’s critically important that everyone get a flu shot, with rare exceptions for people with pre-existing health conditions. Millions of people in the United States fall ill with influenza annually. Between 140,000 and 810,000 are hospitalized, while another 12,000 to 61,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The flu vaccine doesn’t protect against the flu 100%, but does provide the best defense available – even if you do come down with a case of the flu, your symptoms will likely be less severe if you’ve had your flu shot. And, although there are no peer-reviewed studies on whether the flu shot provides protection against COVID-19, there is early research suggesting people who have been immunized against the flu may be less susceptible to testing positive for COVID-19. Statistics also show that life-threatening complications from the flu hit communities of color hardest, with hospitalizations resulting from the flu disproportionately affecting people from racial and ethnic minority groups. From the 2009 flu season through 2019, CDC data shows hospitalization rates per 100,000 people for different populations:
- 68.1: Non-Hispanic Black
- 47.5: Non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native
- 44: Hispanic or Latino
- 38.3: Non-Hispanic White
- 32.1: Non-Hispanic Asian or Pacific Islander
The same factors that lead to unequal rates of complications from the flu – lower socioeconomic status and access to health care, jobs that require more in-person contact with the public and overall systemic inequities – have meant COVID-19 has also wreaked havoc on minority communities at greater rates. Unfortunately, rates of flu vaccinations in minority communities also tend to be lower, which is one reason diverse populations tend to have worse outcomes. The flu vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective, despite persistent myths to the contrary. And no, you don’t get the flu from the flu shot. For the reasons outlined above, it’s important that everyone get a flu shot this year, and particularly so for underrepresented minority populations. At Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, we’re working to make it easy to get vaccinated. Free flu shot clinics and flu shot vouchers have helped Michigan citizens access immunizations in Grand Rapids, Flint, Detroit, Lansing, Muskegon, Benton Harbor and Saginaw. Everyone six months old and older needs to be vaccinated against the flu, this year and every year. Influenza can be deadly and we need to work together to ensure everyone feels empowered to “give it a shot” to protect ourselves, our families and communities. Find free flu shot clinics sponsored by Blue Cross here. If you don’t find an event near you, use the CDC’s Vaccine Finder service.
About the author: Dr. James Grant, MD, is senior vice president and chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Related: