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Millennials and the Flu Shot: Millennials Are Least Likely to Get the Vaccine - Parade

Millennials and the Flu Shot: Millennials Are Least Likely to Get the Vaccine - Parade


Millennials and the Flu Shot: Millennials Are Least Likely to Get the Vaccine - Parade

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 12:00 AM PST

flu-shot-FTR
(iSrock photo)

Only half of Americans have gotten a flu shot this year—and millennials are the worst offenders, according to a new survey commissioned by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). That generation is also the most likely to buy into what the AAFP calls "anti-vaccination rhetoric."

Those stats concern many physicians and public health experts, who worry that people don't understand the real flu facts—and that the influence of misinformation and misconceptions about influenza and the influenza vaccination are growing.

According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  the flu has sent 87,000 people to the hospital during the 2019-2020 season so far—and 4,800 people have died, including 32 children. And it's not over yet. It's only January, and the flu tends to peak in the U.S. in February. Some years, including last year, will experience two waves of flu activity, which prolongs the flu season, and that's always a possibility. And Accuweather is already forecasting a second surge in flu activity in the coming weeks.

"It's not too late to get your flu shot," says Dr. Alexa Mieses, a family practice physician in Durham, North Carolina. "The season is not over yet, and the vaccination would provide some protection."

Use filtered water in humidifiers. Unfiltered water may contain minerals and micro-organisms that could irritate lungs if breathed in.

Millennials say they're too busy for a flu shot

Why don't some people get a flu shot? Some of them just put it off and put it off. In fact, the AAFP Flu Survey found that "mundane excuses" were among the top reasons for not getting a flu shot. Think: "I forgot to get it" and "I didn't have time." Millennials were the mostly likely generation to make this kind of excuse, according to the survey results, with 25 percent saying they didn't have time, compared with 12 percent of the Generation X survey respondents and 6 percent of the Baby Boomers.

Everyone's busy, but don't let that be an excuse, says Dr. Beth Oller, a family physician in Stockton, Kansas. She notes that getting a flu shot doesn't take more than a few minutes, especially since they are widely available at grocery stores, drugstores, and the health department.

"Put it in your calendar and do it over lunch," she says. "Don't wait. Get it done."

Related: Should You Get the HPV Vaccine If You Are Over 35? We Asked the Experts

Are millennials more susceptible to flu myths?

But circulating along with the flu virus are some myths and misinformation about the vaccine and why people need it. According to the AAFP flu survey, about 55 percent of millennials say they haven't gotten a flu shot this season, and 33 percent aren't planning to change that. The survey posits that anti-vaccination beliefs could be responsible in part for those numbers—it found that a whooping 86% of respondents in this age category held at least one factually incorrect belief about the flu and 3 out of 5 millennials said they agree with some anti-vax beliefs.

Some people didn't get a flu shot because they believed they didn't need one, or they believed they could get sick from the flu shot. Another commonly cited excuse was "I don't think the flu is very serious."

That alarms doctors like Dr. Oller, who has seen people die from influenza-related complications.

"We don't have a healthy enough fear of the flu," she says. "I don't know how else to say it. We're not afraid enough."

Men are also more likely to underestimate the potential harm of the flu–and more likely than women to skip getting a seasonal flu vaccine for themselves and their children.

Related: 12 Unique Chicken Soup Recipes to Get You Through Flu Season

Myths about the flu and the flu shot

The flu is just like a bad cold.

According to the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), seasonal influenza is a contagious viral infection. But influenza is not the same as a cold or a stomach virus, even though people often throw the word "flu" around to describe other viruses and even bacterial infections that make them feel sick. Flu symptoms tend to be more intense than cold symptoms, according to the CDC.

The flu is not very serious.

The flu can make people very, very sick, and it can lead to very serious secondary bacterial infections. "It kills people," adds Dr. Oller, explaining that the seasonal flu causes deaths among older people, immunocompromised people, and young people, including young, otherwise healthy people.

The vaccine doesn't work.

It's true that the efficacy of the seasonal influenza vaccine is not as high as some other types of vaccines. "Some years, it's better than others," says Dr. Mieses. But even so, the vaccine provides protection to people who get it, reducing their chances of contracting and spreading the flu to others who may be even more vulnerable. Plus, it can reduce the severity of the flu, if they do wind up coming down with it. (Learn more about how the CDC studies flu vaccine effectiveness.)

You can get the flu from the flu vaccine.

Some people will tell you they got a flu shot, only to come down with the flu a few days later.  They might have been exposed to the flu before the vaccine was effective. It takes your body about two weeks after you get a flu vaccine to produce enough antibodies to fight off the flu, so you could still get the flu while your body's immune system is ramping up. But the flu vaccine itself can't give you the flu, according to the CDC.

What to do if you're nervous about the flu shot

One way to learn more about the flu and how flu vaccines work is by talking to your primary care provider, says Dr. Oller. It's okay to have some reservations or some questions, but it's important to explore those with an expert.

"Ask your family doctor about any of these things," she says. "We are willing to talk to you."

Learn more about how to prevent the flu.

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