clock menu more-arrow no yes

Why even healthy people should get a flu shot: to protect your grandparents

A lot of young and healthy people think there's no need to get a flu shot because they're young and healthy. But one of the best reasons to get a flu vaccine is not to protect yourself, but to protect the elderly.

Check out this chart of flu deaths by age:

Flu-related deaths

The trend here is huge. Depending on the year, the flu kills between 3,000 and 50,000 US residents. (It's a lot of deaths proportionally, too. Depending on the year, influenza and pneumonia are together about the ninth leading cause of death in the US.)

And the vast majority of flu deaths are in people who are 64 years of age or older. So if you're on the younger side, that could be your grandma or grandpa or your own parents. Or someone else's.

People can come down with a lethal case of the flu even if they get the shot themselves. Flu shots don't provide perfect protection. And so some people can still get the flu, even if they get vaccinated.

But the more people who get vaccinated, the harder time the flu virus will have finding someone to jump to next. That makes big outbreaks less likely. And so people at higher risk end up being somewhat protected from the actions of other people in the community. Being able to protect people like this is called community immunity (or herd immunity).

And if you don't get your flu shot, you're upping the chances of becoming a living host of contagion and spreading the virus to other people, including maybe your very own grandparents.

The elderly aren't the only ones you can help protect. Other groups also at high risk are children, pregnant women, and people with cancer, HIV, diabetes, and heart disease.

And all babies less than six months old can't get the flu shot at all. Same with some people who have the immune system disorder Guillain-Barré Syndrome or egg allergies (sometimes the flu viruses that make up the shot are grown in chicken eggs and some egg proteins end up in the vaccine). Or people who are currently feeling ill.

While many people use their health as an excuse to not get the vaccine, you can also see it as one of the best reasons to get it. You can use your relatively good health to help others. And yes, you'll also protect yourself from the flu, as well.

To find the nearest location to get a flu shot (probably a local drugstore like a CVS or Walgreens), check out HealthMap's vaccine finder. It also gives prices. If you don't have insurance, it might be roughly 15 or 20 bucks.

And for those who are needle-shy, there are currently two needle-free ways to get vaccinated: the nasal-spray version (FluMist) and this year's new one — the Afluria PharmaJet.

Still have some excuses about why you don't want a flu shot? Let Sarah Kliff change your mind.

Sign up for the newsletter The Weeds

Understand how policy impacts people. Delivered Fridays.