MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Doctors are pushing hard to encourage people to get their flu shot this year, after last season was one of the worst in decades. They say choosing not to get the vaccine could be costly to you, and everyone around you.
“Of all the things that an individual can do to reduce their risk of influenza, the single most effective is immunization,” said Former State Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson, now the head of the Alabama Hospital Association. He’s urging ALL Alabamians to get the flu shot, even if it seems now like it might be a mild season.
“A. it’s unpredictable, and B. it’s too early to know what the season’s going to look like,” Dr. Williamson explained flu season in Alabama usually spikes in January in February.
The CDC recommends everyone six months old and older get the flu vaccine. Last year was one of the worst on record with 80,000 flu related deaths. Only about 34 percent of adults got the vaccination. Far too few, if you ask Dr. Williamson, who says the shot is a responsibility whether you have kids or not.
“They get influenza, they may spread it to a niece a nephew they may spread it in the workplace, to a parent, who takes it home to a small child,” said Williamson. “If you’ve ever had the flu one time, you would do anything possible to avoid it.”
He has a theory about why more adults don’t protect themselves, and he plans to preach it to lawmakers this spring.
“They simply don’t qualify for Medicaid and they don’t get vaccinated because getting an influenza vaccination is not their highest priority, they’re worried about how they’re going to pay their bill,” Williamson argued for the expansion of Alabama’s Medicaid program. “And so it’s that group that for whom Medicaid expansion has the greatest opportunity.”
It's a continuation of a long-time debate in Alabama.
"How are you going to pay for it? We have a hard time paying for what we’ve got now,” Gov. Kay Ivey asked in August.
Chairman of the Senate’s Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee, Sen. Trip Pittman agrees, saying “It's going to cost us a hundred million dollars at a minimum to expand Medicaid. And we can't deficit spend in the state of Alabama."
“Sometimes you really do have to spend money to save money,” Williamson argued back. “After the first year of expansion, if you look at what's happening in other states, there are savings associated with Medicaid expansion in terms of you shift the cost from the state to the federal government for a host of things.”
A University of Chicago survey polled 1200 people nationwide, and found 41 percent of them had no intentions of getting the flu vaccine this year. Most of them were concerned about potential side effects; about a third of them said they were skipping the shot because they just never get the flu.
The University of Michigan published a poll saying a nearly a third of all parents say their child will not get the flu shot. In that survey, nearly 40 percent of parents say they make their decision based on what they read or hear. Those parents are also less likely to have their child vaccinated compared to parent who follow their doctor’s recommendations.