EDITORIAL: Worth a shot

Flu death offers a reminder of importance of vaccination

The flu has killed two South Texas residents so far this season. This should remind all residents of the importance of getting a flu vaccination.

The Texas Department of State Health Services says the most recent death was a 2-year-old child who had not been vaccinated against the flu virus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that almost anyone 6 months or older can get a flu vaccination, which most commonly is injected but can also be given as a nasal spray.

The CDC reports that more than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu symptoms every year, and thousands die. The agency estimated that about 61,000 people died from the flu during the 2017-2018 flu season, and nearly 50,000 last year.

That’s far too many deaths from a disease that usually is preventable. And in the few cases where someone contracted the flu even after being vaccinated, the symptoms usually are much less severe.

The flu shot is considered so important that many employers provide them to their employees at no or minimal cost. With good reason — flurelated absences cost U.S. businesses some $34 billion every year in lost productivity.

As the flu is highly contagious, the vaccine is made available at many sites in most cities, usually at no out-of-pocket cost to people who have insurance or governmentfunded health plans; most health plans cover 100% of the cost. Doctors’ offices, major pharmacies and many grocery and department stores offer flu shots, usually on a walk-in basis. Sam’s clubs offer them to everyone, without the need for a club membership.

Unfortunately, the availability often doesn’t mean people take advantage of it. Just over 40 percent of Americans got the flu shot last season, the CDC reports. So no one can assume herd immunity, where one is safer because everyone else is vaccinated, thus reducing the chance of the virus spreading.

Although the Affordable Care Act reduced the number of uninsured Americans, many people still don’t have insurance, however, and South Texas still has one of the highestrates of uninsured residents in the country. People who don’t have health care coverage can still go to most locations that offer the vaccine and pay on their own; the cost can be $20-$40, or less if a coupon or other special pricing program is available. The Cameron and Hidalgo county health clinics both reported that they offer the flu shot for $20 for adults, and often less for children under certain health care programs.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Galveston clinic and UT Health Mobile Clinic offer free vaccinations, although supplies are limited. Residents should call UTHSC, (956) 3305014, or the mobile clinic, (956) 551-4711, for information on availability and days.

Even at full price, the cost of the vaccine often is less than the total amount of medication needed to deal with the symptoms once the virus has struck.

Flu season is well under way, but it continues through the spring. Thus, anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated is encouraged to do so. At the very least, it should offer the comfort of being better protected against a potentially deadly virus.