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OP-ED: More than ever, flu shots are critical to a healthy Texas

John Hellerstedt, M.D.
Commissioner at Texas Department of State Health Services

 

Diana L. Fite, M.D.
Texas Medical Association President

2020 has been a hard year. The COVID-19 pandemic has killed our loved ones, made many Texans sick, and upended our lives.

Now we’re facing another big threat – flu season.

Each year in the United States, the influenza (flu) virus kills or hospitalizes thousands of people and makes millions sick.

Our physicians and other health care professionals remain busy caring for COVID-19 patients. They don’t want to start seeing lots of flu patients too. That could stretch our health care system to the breaking point. They want you to get the care you need, when you need it.

You have the power to prevent the flu.

The same actions we use to fight COVID-19 also fight the flu. Wear a mask, wash your hands, cover coughs and sneezes, stay home when you’re sick, and keep at least 6 feet away from people you don’t live with.

Luckily, we already have a strong tool to help protect us from the flu – the influenza vaccine, or flu shot. This year, more than ever, it is important to get a flu vaccine to protect yourself, your family, and your community. A flu shot lowers your risk of getting sick, going to the hospital, and dying from flu. It’s recommended for everyone aged 6 months and older.

We want you to protect yourself against the flu because we’ve seen how devastating it can be. Thanks to the flu shot, close to 58,000 people avoided having to go to the hospital during the 2018-19 flu season. Thanks to the flu shot, about two out of every five older adults won’t have to be hospitalized because of the flu. Thanks to the flu shot, three out of four children could avoid a stay in a hospital intensive care unit. Eight in 10 adults could avoid the ICU by getting a flu shot too. (cdc.gov/flu/prevent/vaccine-benefits)

If you do get sick, the flu vaccine helps make your symptoms milder and helps you recover faster. That’s especially important if you are a parent or caretaker of older family members. Seeing the people we love suffer from a disease like the flu is hard. It’s even harder when you are too sick to care for them.

The flu is most dangerous for people who are elderly or living with chronic health conditions like heart or lung disease and diabetes. People with underlying health conditions should get a flu shot as soon as possible so they can stay healthy.

Pregnancy also can increase the risk of flu complications. The flu shot is safe for pregnant women. It lowers their risk of flu illness and hospitalization by as much as 40%. Plus, when a pregnant woman gets a flu shot, her baby will be protected from the flu for several months after birth. (cdc.gov/flu/highrisk/pregnant)

Talk with your doctor about any questions or concerns you might have about the flu shot.

Many places in Texas offer free or low-cost flu shots, whether you have health insurance or not. Texas Vaccines for Children and the Adult Safety Net Program have vaccines available for people who are uninsured or underinsured. You can also dial 2-1-1 to find out where to get a flu shot in your community or visit 211Texas.org or vaccinefinder.org.

Please encourage your family, friends, coworkers, and everyone you know to get a flu shot. Ways to spread the word are on TexasFlu.org.

Together we can create a healthier and safer Texas.

John Hellerstedt, M.D. is Commissioner at Texas Department of State Health Services and Diana L. Fite, M.D. is Texas Medical Association President.