The Erie County Executive and Erie County Health Commissioner say the first cases of influenza are being reported in the county. As part of their plea to the public to get a flu vaccine, both Mark Poloncarz and Dr. Gale Burstein rolled up their sleeves and received their own shots.
Last year, an estimated 80,000 people throughout the United States died of flu-related complications including pneumonia. Of those cases, 183 confirmed victims were children.
That, according to Poloncarz, breaks down to one out of every 4,062 people, or about 200 people among the estimated 925,000 residents of of Erie County.
"We talk about this annually how the flu can kill people and get your shot, and people are like 'I don't need it,' and then we hear stories about individuals who have died from the flu," said Poloncarz, noting that one fatal flu cases has already been reported this season in Connecticut. "I know of at least three individuals last year, family members of people I know - generally seniors - who died last year after getting the flu and then having complications associated with the flu."
Influenza is a communicable disease, Dr. Burstein stated, and getting a flu shot is more than protecting the individual receiving it. It's also about protecting those in close contact, such as children, elderly relatives or anyone who could be at risk of contracting the illness.
Burstein says excuses people give for not getting a flu shot include pregnancy, allergies to eggs and living with a chronic illness. None of those are valid excuses, according to the health commissioner, and she urged pregnant women to get the shot, saying it will protect both mother and baby and continue to protect the child after its birth because of passive immunity.
She also warned against believing the claims of anti-vaccination advocates, many of whom share information online suggesting that vaccines pose more of a health risk than a benefit.
"Their beliefs are not based on fact," she said. "Their beliefs are based on something else, bad information they read on the internet or what their friends are saying. But it's not based on fact. We know the flu vaccine is protective against influenza.
"Even if you do contract a strain of influenza and you're not full protected against the virus, there is partial protection so you won't become as ill and shed the virus, as compared to people who haven't been immunized."
Getting vaccinated is not just about protecting one's own self, Burstein and Poloncarz noted, but also protecting those in one's presence.