Last year's deadly flu was one for the record books. The CDC estimates some 80,000 Americans died from the virus and its complications last winter – the highest death toll since the 1970s.
When it comes to children, however, no estimates are necessary. Unlike adult deaths, child deaths from flu are directly reported to the CDC, so we know that 183 children were lost to the virus in 2017-2018 – the worst count since records began. About 80 percent of those kids hadn't received a flu shot.
That so many children went unvaccinated in the face of such an unforgiving flu epidemic suggests a lot of unnecessary tragedy could have been avoided, if only those kids' parents had acted differently. Why didn't they?
New research provides some answers on that front – and some shocking statistics of a different kind.
According to a national survey conducted by Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, a majority of parents believe their kid can get the flu from the flu shot.
You read that right. More than half (53 percent) of the 704 parents (of kids and teenagers under the age of 18) who took part in the survey said they believed flu shots can actually infect people with the very thing they're designed to vaccinate against.
It's a dangerous misconception health authorities are desperate to confront as this winter's flu season begins.
"The parts of the virus that are used are completely dead, so you cannot get the flu from the flu shot," explains paediatrician Jean Moorjani, who helped conduct the research.
As we know, vaccines aren't always entirely effective, which is something the respondents were also concerned about.
Approximately one-third of parents surveyed said they believed that flu shots don't protect against the flu. As Moorjani explains, getting vaccinated against the flu is the best way to protect yourself from the flu virus, but it's not infallible – especially if you don't get the shots in time.
"After receiving the shot, it takes your body about two weeks to build up antibodies to fight the flu," Moorjani says.
"So if you come in contact with the virus during that time, you may still get sick, which is why you should get your flu shot as early as possible."
None of this is true.
"After years of research, we know that the flu vaccine is safe," says Moorjani.
"The flu shot does not cause autism or any other diseases or illnesses. Doctors recommend the flu shot because it is the best way to protect you and your family from the flu."
Nonetheless, the widespread popularity of such erroneous beliefs helps explain why fewer than half Americans actually get vaccinated against the flu each year, even though it can kill as many as 80,000 people in a single season.
By comparison, motor vehicle crashes only claim about 40,000 lives annually – half the death toll of the 2017–2018 flu season – but nine out of ten people elect to wear seatbelts. (Another great idea, incidentally.)
With all this in the background, the researchers are publicising the survey's results now, with the 2018–2019 flu season about to kick off.
Hopefully the message gets across before more mistruths are perpetrated, even by loved ones who mean well – but who aren't, let's face it, scientists.
"With any medication or vaccine, people are going to have concerns," Moorjani says.
"Because information can come from so many places, from friends and family to the internet, it's important to talk to a doctor you trust to get credible information that is based in science and facts."
Right now, an important date to be aware of is October 31. Moorjani says that should be your deadline for getting flu shots, to give your body time to build up antibodies before the peak of the season hits in November and December.
For one family, it's already too late.
The child remains unidentified, but before they got the flu, they were otherwise healthy, with no known underlying medical conditions.
The child had not been vaccinated.