101 Empty Chairs
Jun 23, 2017

By Serese Marotta, Chief Operating Officer, Families Fighting Flu

Sadly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that the 2016/2017 flu season has now claimed the lives of more than 100 children. 101 to be exact.  This statistic is hauntingly familiar – three of the past five flu seasons also claimed the lives of more than 100 children.

101 Pediatric Flu Deaths

Sometimes we forget what these numbers really mean.

It means that 101 families had to bury their beloved children; 101 families have to listen to the deafening sound of silence left by their lost loved ones; and 101 families now have empty chairs at their dinner tables every night.

I paint this picture because I know how these families feel. They’re probably thinking the same thing I did after my son died from the flu – how did this happen and what could I have done to prevent it? 

Unfortunately, unless flu has personally touched your family like it has mine, chances are you’re not all that worried about flu.  You may even think it’s just a bad cold. Well, as the mother of a child who lost her five-year old son to flu, I’m here to tell you, “Not so“.

According to the CDC, flu kills more Americans every year – up to 56,000 people – than any other vaccine-preventable disease.  Since 2004, when the CDC started reporting pediatric flu deaths, 1,466 children – many of whom were otherwise healthy – have lost their lives to flu.

Flu is that infectious disease that seems to fly under the radar. While everyone is focused on the latest outbreak of measles, mumps, pertussis or meningitis, flu is that one disease that we know we will have an outbreak of each and every year.  As prevalent as flu is, it still manages to creep up like a quiet thief in the night, stealing our loved ones right out from under our noses.  And yet when it does, we wonder why we never saw it coming.  Flu has killed millions of people worldwide – and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

So what can we do to protect ourselves and our loved ones from influenza each year?  Annual vaccination.

Studies show that flu vaccination can reduce the likelihood of death and hospitalization from flu in people of all ages.  Yet, less than half of Americans get their annual flu vaccine.  Perhaps they have questions or concerns about the vaccine.  Maybe they think the flu vaccine can give you the flu – which is not possible because the virus is inactivated.   There are even some people who claim they don’t get the flu vaccine because it’s not effective – yet a recent study suggests that the flu vaccine can reduce the chance of death in children by as much as 65%.  Ask any of our Families Fighting Flu family members who’ve lost their children to flu – if they could have increased the chances of their child surviving flu by getting them vaccinated would they do it?  Their answer would be a resounding “Yes.  ABSOLUTELY!

Think of those empty chairs and don’t take the chance of someone you love suffering or dying from flu.  The more people who are vaccinated, the less chance the flu has to spread. By getting yourself and your family vaccinated, you’ll be doing everything you can to prevent a tragedy like the one my family, and 101 other families this past season, have had to experience.

You already do plenty of things to protect your children and your loved ones, ranging from wearing seat belts, putting on bike helmets, and holding your child’s hand in a busy parking lot. So why wouldn’t you also consider annual flu vaccination as just another measure you can take to protect your children and yourselves?

Take a moment to think about the fun you will have with your family this summer and then think about the 101 families who will still be grieving their children.  Then be sure to put annual flu vaccination on your family’s to-do list this fall – because no one should have to face an empty chair every night.

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