The CDC has declared this week to be National Influenza Vaccination Week, and is working to raise awareness about the seriousness of influenza and the importance of vaccination. The agency reminds us that each year in the U.S., 5-20 %of the population gets the flu, and approximately 36,000 people die from it. Many of these deaths occur among young children and the elderly, so if you’re in one of those groups or come into contact with those who are, it’s a good idea to get yourself vaccinated.

The idea behind flu vaccination isn’t just to avoid getting a virus that’ll make you miserable for a week (although isn’t that enough of a reason?), but to reduce the risk of spreading it. Some individuals have medical conditions that make it inadvisable for them to get vaccinated, or the vaccine may not be effective for them – in fact, there are questions about the effectiveness of flu vaccines for the elderly. When more of us get vaccinated, we reduce the risk of passing influenza along to these vulnerable groups.

Your employer may offer flu vaccinations (that’s how I got mine), or you can get them from your doctor or a retail clinic.

Here are a few more interesting points about seasonal influenza from the CDC:

From their Q&A page:

Flu activity typically does not reach its peak in the U.S. until January or February. Getting the flu vaccine soon after it becomes available each year is always a good idea, and the protection you get from vaccination will last throughout the flu season. However, flu activity can occur as late as May so getting a vaccine later in the season, including in December, January or even later, and even if flu activity has already started in your area, can still offer protection in most years.

From the page on vaccine effectiveness:

CDC recommends getting a flu vaccination every year, even when there is a less than ideal match between the viruses used to make the vaccine and those causing illness. This is especially important for people at higher risk for serious flu-related complications and for people who come into close contact with them.

Flu viruses are always changing. Sometimes they change from when the vaccine is recommended and the beginning of the flu season; they can even change during a flu season. When flu viruses change, they may no longer closely match viruses used to make that season’s flu vaccine. This can make the vaccine less effective. But even when this happens, the vaccine can still offer protection:

1. The vaccine contains three viruses, so it can protect you against the other two viruses that may be making people sick.

2. The immune protection you get from the vaccine can provide partial protection against flu viruses that are related to those used to make the vaccine (this is called cross-protection.) So while a less than ideal match can reduce vaccine benefit, the vaccine can still provide enough protection to make illness less severe and prevent flu-related complications.

A less than perfect vaccine is still the best protection we have against influenza. That is why CDC continues to recommend getting the vaccine even when there is a less than perfect match between viruses used to make the vaccine and viruses making a lot of people sick.

And, of course, regardless of whether you’ve gotten a flu shot, you can reduce the spread of viruses by covering your cough, washing your hands, and staying away from  others when you’re sick.