Dr. Kumar Dharmarajan

By: Kumar Dharmarajan, MD and Chief Scientific Officer at Clover Health

Mid-state Tennessee has a looming health problem: not enough of us are planning to get vaccinated against the flu this winter.

Many of us believe that the flu is not much more than fever, chills, and a few days home in bed sipping chicken soup. That perception is wrong; the flu is much more serious than any cold and can be deadly—especially as you get older.

Last year, the U.S. experienced the consequences of this misperception—a record 80,000 deaths from the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What’s more, seniors continue to account for the vast majority of flu-related deaths. It is estimated that in recent years, between seventy and ninety percent of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older.

This may sound scary, but there’s good news. There is a simple and effective way to markedly reduce your odds of getting influenza: the flu shot.

Yet less than two-thirds of seniors nationwide are planning to get vaccinated, according to Clover Health’s Flu Shot Monitor, and the results in Nashville are especially striking.

The Flu Shot Monitor found that here in Nashville, only 61 percent of seniors plan to get vaccinated this season. This is deeply concerning, considering how easy and inexpensive it is to get a flu shot.

The Flu Shot Monitor’s findings are also helpful in understanding why so many seniors are choosing to forgo the vaccine. Interviewed seniors in Nashville who told us they are not getting vaccinated this year said:

  • They are concerned the vaccine will make them sick (37 percent)
  • They don’t think the vaccine will be effective (33 percent)
  • They think they don’t need the vaccine or that they won’t get the flu (26 percent)

Let’s debunk each of these here and now.

First, flu vaccines cannot cause the flu. The scientists making the vaccines use either inactivated (killed) viruses or a small amount of the full virus, which ensures your body can build up immunity while not making you sick. Yes, a small percentage of people feel sluggish for a couple of days after getting a flu shot, but that is a small price to pay.

The most effective way to protect yourself against the flu is by getting the flu shot. Recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of the flu by between 40 and 60 percent. And just because you’re feeling healthy or haven’t gotten the flu in many years—that is not a reason to think you can escape the virus this year.

Our survey results felt familiar, matching what I heard from patients throughout my years as a physician. Unfortunately, seniors who do not get themselves vaccinated not only put themselves at risk, but also endanger their friends and family members—particularly their young grandchildren.

As a community, we need to ensure every senior in every neighborhood understands the serious threat the flu virus holds.

While there are a lot of myths around getting a flu shot, the real danger is in contracting the illness. It is our duty to our friends, family, and neighbors to dispel these fables and encourage everyone in middle Tennessee to get vaccinated before the virus hits.

Clover Health treats numerous communities that have experienced flu epidemics. Through initiatives like the Flu Shot Monitor, we are driving awareness and increased flu vaccination access. But on its own, our voice can only travel so far. We need your help.

So this fall, please: get vaccinated, get your kids vaccinated, get your grandparents vaccinated, drive a senior to a flu clinic, or help quell a senior’s fear of getting ill from a vaccine. At the very least—share this story.

Kumar Dharmarajan is a geriatrician and cardiologist who serves as Clover Health’s Chief Scientific Officer.