Get a flu jab – for yourself and the herd

The flu, an annual plague that claims twice as many lives as road carnage, has struck relatively early and alarmingly hard this year, adding urgency to the importance of getting vaccinated, the most effective protection individually and collectively.

Everyone is at risk, but the young, the elderly, Indigenous Australians and those with chronic ill health are particularly vulnerable. Anyone with a chronic health problem is 40 times more likely than average to contract the illness. Pregnant women should also make sure they are vaccinated, doctors say.

Credit:Justin McManus

All this, surely, should give the fortunately robust members of the ‘‘herd’’, as health experts explain it, an attractive reason to inoculate themselves primarily to protect others. Yet only an estimated one in 10 does so for that primal motivation.

There is much room for life-saving progress. Vaccination has a 70per cent success rate, yet a recent survey found that only 40per cent of adults intend to get jabbed, and only one in 10 reckons children should be. This is not so much about ideology (for anti-vaxxers are few and discredited), but, perhaps, apathy and unawareness.

Nationally, more than 60 people have died of flu before the onset of the winter peak, including children. Stricken aged-care residents have died in alarmingly high numbers already, and the danger presented by this perpetually mutating killer virus is pertinent to the royal commission into the sector.

The risk must not be ignored, for the potential consequences are evident and vaccination is free to many and affordable to most of those who might not be eligible for full government subsidisation. This year flu is expected to cause or contribute to the death of as many as 4000 Australian residents, up a quarter on what is already a chilling annual average. There have been more than 45,000 laboratory-confirmed cases so far in 2019, an almost threefold increase on the same period in recent years.

Health experts say the number of flu cases already this year is the highest in 20 years, and they are imploring people to take one for the herd, if not for themselves. Most states and territories offer free flu shots to cohorts considered most vulnerable. Many businesses offer free flu shots to their staff.

We continue to argue the vaccination be totally free to everyone. This would not only save lives, but minimise the cost to the economy and the pressure on hospitals already struggling with patient loads.

One hundred years ago, the flu killed between 50 million and 100million people worldwide – between 3 per cent and 5 per cent of the global population. We have since learnt that the more people who are vaccinated, the safer it is for everyone. But despite significant medical progress having been made, the effectiveness of vaccinations depends on two things: the degree to which researchers can counter mutations, and how widely the population protects itself.

Good luck, everyone, in this particularly menacing flu season. But it is not a great idea to rely on chance on this one – get a jab if you’re able and be kind to yourselves and others by not turning up crook at work – presenteeism is as dopey, for different reasons, as absenteeism.

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