As Benjamin Franklin famously wrote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That is certainly the case with the flu vaccine, which according to the Center for Disease Control, prevented 5.3 million Americans from getting the flu and stopped 85,000 influenza-related hospitalizations in 2016-2017.


Furthermore, a 2015 CDC study revealed that, over nine years, the flu vaccine saved more than 40,000 lives while another showed that for every 4,000 people getting the vaccine, one life is saved.


As we near the 2019-2020 flu season, it’s important to make sure you and your family are protected from the flu. Except for a few special cases, everyone over the age of six months should get the flu vaccine not just for their protection, but for the protection of those around them. Pregnant women are especially encouraged to receive the shot since not only are they more at risk to complications, but they can also pass on immunity to their babies before birth and continue providing antibody protection if nursing.


The CDC recommends getting vaccinated before the end of October; however, even a shot later in the season can provide some protection. Following a vaccination, it can take up to two weeks to develop the antibodies needed to protect you from the flu. In addition to getting vaccinated, don’t forget to take additional steps to increase your protection, such as avoiding sick people when possible and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs.


If you or a loved one gets the flu, please stay home from work, school, or social gatherings to keep from spreading the virus to the rest of your community. In addition, don’t forget to visit the doctor at the first sign of any flu symptoms. There are prescription drugs that can help minimize the severity of the flu, but they are most effective if treatment is started with 48 hours of contracting the flu.


While this year’s vaccine is no guarantee you won’t catch the flu, it can help protect you from the most widespread strains and even make your illness less severe. Doing so is important because sometimes the flu can lead to complications and be fatal, even among those without pre-existing health conditions.


As mentioned earlier, there are a few very small groups of individuals who should not get the flu vaccine, such as those with a compromised immunity or intense egg allergies. If you have questions about the flu vaccine or any other health concerns, please visit with your primary care physician.


Woody Jenkins, M.D. is a Stillwater physician specializing in internal medicine, and is past-president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association (OSMA) and co-chair of OSMA’s Rural Physician Section. This column is part of OSMA’s ongoing mission to encourage better health for all Oklahomans.