With the Centers For Disease Control reporting that this year's is one of the worst flu seasons in recent memory, getting your flu shot is more important than ever. But a new data analysis project from Insurance Quotes reports that millennials are least likely to get the flu shot out of any age group. The project found that people ages 18-34 are more likely to skip this recommended vaccination. And, while millennials might be healthier than older generations, which can lead you to believe you don't need the the flu shot, getting vaccinated isn't just for your protection.
On its website, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services explained that getting the flu shot helps create something called community immunity, otherwise known as herd immunity. Community immunity basically protects people who can't, for whatever reason, get vaccinated, because so many people who can be vaccinated have been, and thus are unlikely to spread the disease further. Herd immunity is especially important for vulnerable populations like infants, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems.
"Germs can travel quickly through a community and make a lot of people sick," the Department of Health & Human Services explained. "If enough people get sick, it can lead to an outbreak. But when enough people are vaccinated against a certain disease, the germs can’t travel as easily from person to person — and the entire community is less likely to get the disease."
Aside from millennials, the study noted people in the midwest, northeast, Washington state, and a handful of east coast states are less likely to opt for the flu shot despite most drug stores offering it for free, or at a reduced rate. So, even if you don't have insurance, you can still get vaccinated. While some people mistakenly believe that getting the flu shot will give them the flu, Dr. David Shih, executive vice president of strategy, health and innovation at CityMD, noted in a 2017 study by City MD that this is simply not true.
"The flu shot is not a live virus injection," he explained. "It's an inactivated vaccine. The symptoms some people feel are normal, mild side effects from the vaccine activating their immune systems. When your immune system is activated and working, there can be side effects as though your body is exposed to and fighting a real virus." However, these side effects are temporary, and are not the same thing as having the flu.
If you're unsure if the flu shot is safe for you, for instance, if you have an autoimmune disorder or an allergy to certain vaccines, talk it over with your doctor. If you don't have a doctor, or insurance, you can consult with doctors virtually on a number of health apps for a reasonable rate. If you can't get the flu shot for medical reasons, make sure you're taking all of the recommended precautions to avoid spreading germs, especially staying home if you're sick.
Seriously, you are totally empowered to protect others, which makes you much more of a hero than going to work when sick. And, while you might be staying home, most of your friends aren't. According to the CityMD, millennials who do get the flu are also more likely to go to work while sick than other generations (perhaps because millennials have fewer job protections, such as paid sick leave, thanks to the gig economy).
Not convinced spreading germs can have adverse consequences for a total stranger? I recently read a book on old Hollywood, and it detailed how actor Gene Tierney contracted rubella from a fan who wanted to meet her so badly that she ventured out while sick, according to the New Yorker. Pregnant at the time, Tierney's daughter was born with severe birth defects. Years later she met the woman again, who admitted to Tierney that she had rubella at the time of their first meeting. While people generally don't get rubella in the U.S. anymore (thanks to vaccines), babies born after pregnant women are exposed to the flu can also suffer birth defects, according to the CDC.
"A common flu symptom is fever, which may be associated with neural tube defects and other adverse outcomes for a developing baby," the CDC explained on its website. This doesn't mean you're absolutely going to harm an unborn baby with your germs. However, it's important to know that there is a very real risk. So, even if you don't go to work, you really shouldn't go anywhere else either. If you don't want to stay home while you're sick for yourself, do it for the babies, for your grandparents, and for people who can't be vaccinated.
The study from CityMD noted that 76 percent of millennials who were sick still ventured out to the gym, the grocery store, the home of a family member or friend, or school. And, because people ages 18-34 are less likely to get the flu shot in the first place, and most likely to leave home while sick, they're also more likely to spread the flu to people their own age, and everyone else.
While self-imposed exile with Netflix and Hulu while you're sick might be isolating, it's really what's best for everyone. Use an app to get groceries or food delivered, and add a note asking the delivery person to leave your order outside of your door (so you don't accidentally spread your germs to them). While this might seem like overkill, another study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that you can spread the flu just by breathing and talking.
It's basically a super gross vicious cycle of nasty and potentially dangerous germs. If you absolutely have to go out while you're sick, wear a mask, and make sure you wash your hands thoroughly, surgeon-style. This means soaping up and scrubbing while humming the happy birthday song twice, according to the CDC. For real, the flu is no joke this year, and it's always better to err on the side of safety. Don't be a hero and try to go to work, because once you get everyone sick you might be recast as the office villain, and nobody wants that title. #TheMoreYouKnow