A new AARP survey finds that many older adults are risking their health and the health of those around them by skipping their annual flu shot.
The study found that about half of people 50 and older missed getting an influenza vaccination last year, leaving themselves and their loved ones at higher risk for the virus and its complications.
While 38 percent of those who reported not getting a shot in 2006 said they believed they didn't need one, many were also concerned about the side effects. More than 20 percent believed they could get the flu from the vaccine, did not trust the safety of the vaccine or were concerned with other possible side effects.
"Flu shots are safe; skipping the shot is not," said Dr. Byron Thames, a member of AARP's Board of Directors. "Unfortunately, the urban legend of getting the flu from the vaccine lives on. We're here to tell people that a little pinch on the arm is better than a week in bed, or a trip to the hospital."
Influenza and its complications result in an average of 36,000 deaths annually in the United States. More than 90 percent of these deaths occur in adults older than 65.
"Getting an annual vaccination is the safest and most effective way to prevent the spread of the flu," said David Mitchell, AARP Arizona State Director.
AARP also reminds caregivers to get a flu shot this season. The survey found one in four people 50-plus provided care for a child, grandchild or older loved one at some point in the past year. Flu shots are recommended for this group to protect not only the recipient, but also those for whom they care for.
"Not only do many older Americans not recognize the importance of influenza vaccination, but they don't appreciate that getting vaccinated well into the New Year will help protect them and those they love from this serious illness," said Dr. William Schaffner, vice president, National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID). "NFID supports AARP's efforts to increase vaccination rates among this age group and urges older Americans to seek vaccination throughout the winter months."
An annual flu shot is necessary, as a new vaccine is produced each year to target the specific virus strains expected that season. The flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as May, peaking between January and March.