The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released a statement urging parents to have their kids (and themselves) vaccinated against the flu for the upcoming 2011-2012 flu season, even if they had flu shots last year. While this year’s vaccine protects against the same three viruses it did last year, the AAP says that a person’s immunity can decrease by up to 50% as early as six months after the shot.

'When the flu enters a community, it spreads largely through the school system. If you vaccinate through kids, you start to get herd immunity.'

Former ice skating champion Kristi Yamaguchi is working hard with the organization Faces of Influenza to spread word about the importance of getting one’s flu vaccine. We spoke to Yamaguchi and Dr. Norman Edelman, the Chief Medical Officer of the American Lung Association (ALA), which heads the Faces of Influenza campaign, about why it’s so important to re-vaccinate this year.

According to Dr. Edelman, a person’s immunity decreases significantly from year to year, although the reasons for this aren’t exactly clear. He says that because the side-effects of the vaccines are so exceedingly rare, getting the flu shot is really a must-do, particularly for certain groups of people. Seniors, pregnant women, children, and people with chronic disease – any chronic illness, he says – at higher risk for flu-related complications. He tells us that while in the past, it was the complications from the flu that posed the major dangers, “H1N1 changed all that – severe reactions occurred in otherwise healthy young people. Many people died just from flu virus alone, not from the complications.” This is reason enough to drop by your local pharmacist and get the shot.

Yamaguchi tells us about the Faces of Influenza campaign, of which she is spokesperson. Patchworked across the website’s homepage are portraits of the parents who have lost their children to influenza, patients with chronic illness who have dealt with the complications of the flu, as well as regular, healthy adults.

Becoming a mother was partially what propelled Yamaguchi into her activism for this cause. “If you’re a mom,” she says, “being unable to take care of your kids... that’s hard. You want to avoid that.” She emphasizes the goal is purely to alert people to the realities of how the flu affects all of us: since we all know someone who is at higher risk. She says, “Everyone is a face of influenza.”

Getting vaccinated is important because the flu is highly contagious. Edelman stresses that children are one of the highest-risk groups, and should certainly be vaccinated. “Children are the vectors. When the flu enters a community, it spreads largely through the school system. If you vaccinate through kids, you start to get herd immunity.” And the ALA has carried out research showing that the vaccine is even safe for asthma patients. So if you’re over six months old, it may be a good idea to get the shot; talking to your health care provider about whether it’s right for you is always a good start.