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More than Half of Millennials Aren't Getting a Flu Shot this Year: Survey

By Nicole Levy | October 3, 2016 10:02am
 Even if your flu vaccine isn't quite a
Even if your flu vaccine isn't quite a "match" for the strains circulating this year, it will decrease the severity and duration of your symptoms.
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Shutterstock/Komsan Loonprom

NEW YORK CITY — If you're thinking of forgoing the flu shot because you don't think you're at risk of exposure, consider this: the influenza virus can live for up to two hours on a subway pole after someone sneezes or coughs on it.

A new study commissioned by CityMD, an urgent care chain with 37 clinics across the five boroughs, found that, of all 2,080 respondents ages 18 and older in the national online survey, 42 percent said they’d forgo the vaccine, according to results out Monday.

The numbers are even higher for millennials age 18 to 34. More than half of them said they weren’t planning on getting a flu shot this year.

“They think the flu only affects the old and the young and the sick,” said Dawne Kort, a CityMD physician who practices in New York metropolitan area.

“I think what this population needs to understand is they too can get the flu, and they, too, can have some really serious side effects.”

The most severe are hospitalization and death, but symptoms of fever, coughing, body aches and fatigue can confine flu patients to their beds for as many as seven days, Kort said.

“Most people can’t afford to miss school or work for that amount of time,” she said, “so if there’s something you can do to decrease your chance, I think it’s something you should seriously consider.”

Almost half, or 49 percent, of the millennial survey respondents who weren’t considering the vaccine said they didn’t trust it would keep them from getting sick with the flu.

A flu shot may not be 100 percent effective — if you’re exposed to a strain that pharmaceutical companies didn’t include in this year’s vaccine, you can still catch it — but it dependably lessens the severity and duration of symptoms in the event you do get sick.

(Why a shot instead of the nasal spray federal health officials had previously recommended for young children? An expert panel on vaccines said in June that FluMist failed to protect children last year for the third year in a row and recommended against its use this year.)

Millennials who believe the flu shot can itself give you the flu — which accounts for 29 percent of those who said they were passing on one this year in the online survey conducted by Harris Poll — are falling prey to a common misconception about vaccines administered by needle.

”What people need to understand is it’s not a live flu vaccine — they’re getting an immune product within the vaccine,” Kort said, echoing the CDC’s advisory on the subject. “Since it is not live, it cannot cause the flu.”

“May you get ill from something else? Yes,” Korte continued. “You can have two things at once, and sometimes when you’re building the [flu] antibody, your immune system is at a lower state, so could you get a secondary infection? Yes.” It takes two weeks for your body to develop antibodies as a defense against the flu after you get a shot.

While one quarter of the 433 millennials participating in the CityMD survey said they weren’t planning on getting a shot because they didn’t want to spend the money, most health insurance providers cover the expense under Obamacare as a preventative service.

Without insurance, flu shots cost between $39.99 and $59.99 at Walgreens and Duane Reade pharmacies around the city. (You can locate the most convenient place to get your flu shot with this map provided by the New York City Health Department.)

READ MORE: Here's How You Can Protect Yourself Before This Flu Season Hits

“The flu shot in and of itself is not expensive,” Kort said. “I think if people were to think of the expense of missing school or work and then the added expense of treating the symptoms, with tissues, lozenges, cough suppressants, fever-reducers. I think what they’re spending on those ancillary products… is probably more costly than actually getting the flu vaccine.”

Twenty-three percent of millennial survey respondents and 30 percent of respondents ages 55 and older said they didn’t think they needed a vaccine because they had never gotten the flu before.

That may be a better reason than any to get immunized, because doctors can’t predict how the flu will affect any one individual, Kort said.

“The way the flu is going to affect each person is very individual, and while the people at the greatest risk are the infants, and the people over 65, pregnant [women], we do see young, healthy people who unfortunately do die from the flu, who do require getting hospitalized because of the flu.”

In 2016, 3,052 New Yorkers died of influenza and pneumonia, which can develop as a complication of the flu, according to Mortality Surveillance Data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

“I had a 7-year-old a couple of winters ago who went to bed ill, but not devastatingly ill, and she didn’t wake up. And the only thing they found on her autopsy was Flu A positive,” Kort recalled.

By 1 p.m. on a Wednesday in mid-September, when people begin spending more indoors, she has already diagnosed five cases of the flu.

“It’s not the huge number yet, but it’s enough that I’m checking — anybody comes in fever, chills body aches, we do the flu swab, and we’re seeing people test positive already.”