By Dr. Anthony Policastro

October is the time of the year for flu vaccines. Each year the flu vaccine changes. Last year there were four types of flu viruses contained in the vaccine. This year there are again four types of flu viruses in the vaccine. Three of the components are the same as last year. The fourth is similar to last year but has been slightly modified.

We know that the flu vaccine works well. That is especially true for individuals in long term care facilities. Those individuals were the ones who suffered the most from the COVID pandemic.

There are 1,300,000 residents of long term care facilities in the U.S.  That represents less than half a percent of the total population. However, the individuals in long term care facilities represented 14.3 percent of the COVID deaths. That is about 35 times what we saw for everyone else in the country.

We know that the risks from influenza are high for that group of individuals. Individuals in long term care facilities have the most benefit from getting the flu vaccine. Their mortality from flu drops by 40 percent over those not vaccinated. Other individuals their age living in the community show a 21 percent lower mortality than than those not vaccinated. 

This means that individuals who are in these long term care facilities need to have a good flu vaccine program in place.

A second group of individuals that benefits the most from flu vaccine are the elderly. For example flu related deaths under age 49 are about 2 deaths per 100,000 people in that age range. It increases to 9.1 per 100,000 for individuals ages 50 – 64 years. For individuals over age 65 years the number of deaths rises to 22.1 per 100,000. That is 10 times what it is for the younger groups.

A third group of individuals who have more problems from the flu are those with underlying medical conditions. These conditions include individuals who are immunocompromised. This might be due to underlying immune disorders. It might be due to cancer treatment. It might be due to cancer itself.

Other underlying conditions include asthma which can worsen with the flu. Other underlying conditions include, a history of heart disease, individuals with asthma, individuals with a history of stroke, and individuals with diabetes. All of these high risk groups benefit significantly from getting their annual flu vaccine. 

Unfortunately, there are many individuals who do not take advantage of this simple and effective treatment. They choose instead to gamble. Sometimes they win. But, unfortunately sometimes they lose.