How the Flu Shot Works to Protect You

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a viral infection that targets the respiratory system—i.e. the nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms can include cough, congestion, muscle aches, fever and chills. When left untreated, the flu can lead to long-term hospitalization and even death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone get a flu vaccination. Certain groups, namely children, seniors and people with an immunodeficiency, are more vulnerable to infection than others. For optimal protection, individuals should be vaccinated before peak flu season, which can occur between December and February.

Like the virus itself, the flu vaccine is constantly changing. Researchers create formulas based on the previous year’s strain to combat the latest iteration. Each vaccine contains a small amount of the virus, which triggers the body’s natural defenses. This exposure helps the immune system better identify and combat incoming pathogens.

Despite its viral origin, the flu vaccine does not spread the infection. It’s manufactured from an inactive strain, meaning it’s no longer a biological threat. In some instances, people experience side effects like low-grade fever, headache or muscle aches after taking the shot. Others may develop redness, soreness or swelling at the site of injection. These issues are usually resolved in one or two days.

There are multiple flu vaccines available. In the United States, trivalent and quadrivalent are the most common. The trivalent vaccine protects against three viral strains, while the quadrivalent inhibits four. Standard versions are grown and synthesized from chicken eggs. Yet, there are alternatives for individuals with egg-sensitivities such as a recombinant quadrivalent (for people age 18 and up) and a cell culture-based vaccine (for people age four and up).

Generally, flu vaccines can be administered to individuals six months and older. But people allergic to gelatin and certain antibiotics as well as those with Guillain-Barré Syndrome should talk to their doctor before receiving the shot. It’s possible for the vaccine to cause short-term and long-term health issues.

Although the success rate varies from year-to-year, the flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the chance of infection by 40% to 60%. Those who do contract the virus experience much milder symptoms and have fewer influenza-related complications.

This year, public health officials are saying it’s more important than ever to get the flu shot to lessen the strain on hospital systems burdened by COVID-19 patients.

Creating an Employee Retirement Plan? 5 Questions to Answer

Are you considering the addition of a retirement plan for your employees? Small businesses who want to be competitive in a difficult hiring market find that a retirement plan — most often an employer-sponsored 401(k) — attracts new and higher quality talent. And it helps you keep employees once you’ve hired them.

But there may be a big gap between wanting to create a 401(k) plan and actually setting one up. To accomplish this task, you’ll first need to answer a few questions. The following questions will guide you in the selection of a plan and its implementation.

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5 Healthy Ways to Handle Post-Election Emotions

Like any presidential election in the past, some people with opposing views may find it hard to see eye to eye. As a result of this, you may be experiencing a negative impact on close relationships with friends or family.
Here are some healthy, appropriate ways to express your feelings post-election, no matter what they may be.
  1. Acknowledge Your Feelings: Whether you’re feeling happy or sad, it’s important to react in a way that feels natural. Internalizing emotions can be toxic to your mental health, so allow yourself to cry due to sadness, or smile and laugh to express joy. Turning to spirituality or community involvement can also be positive forms of expression.
  2. Unplug: Watching the news and scrolling through social media can fuel the urge to argue with those who may not share the same political views as you. Take time to distract yourself with something away from TVs and phones, like reading a book or exercising, to relax and avoid disagreements.
  3.  Agree to Disagree: When you’re faced with the reality that a loved one doesn’t feel the same over politics, work on practicing acceptance. Attempting to change another person’s political views is like saying, “my beliefs are better than yours,” which can lead to long-term damage of a close relationship.
  4. Change the Conversation: Because the holidays are approaching, some people are anticipating that politics will come into the conversations with family. If this is the case, there are polite ways to change the subject. Think about the occasion that brought you together, and bring the discussion back to a happy, holiday focus.
  5. Move Forward: The votes have been counted, so it’s imperative to make the best of our new political environment together. That may mean taking the time to apologize and forgive in order to let go of negative feelings toward those who have opposing viewpoints. With the season of giving just around the corner, turn the focus to passion points you share beyond politics.

Courtesy of BCBSM.

Understanding Social Determinants of Health in Michigan

Many of the community members accessing services at Baxter Community Center in southeast Grand Rapids have jobs considered “essential” in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

They ring up groceries, clean hospital rooms and work as home health care aides. They are essential to the continued operations of many organizations and businesses but their work is often undervalued by society. It’s typically lower-paid, oftentimes with no or limited benefits and requires workers to flex their schedules to fit the needs of their employer. This has created major challenges for many in accessing what they need, particularly at the very beginning of the outbreak in Michigan.  

“A lot of our families couldn’t get to stores with the limited hours and restricted transportation, especially those navigating work schedules,” said Sonja Forte, executive director, Baxter Community Center.    

Advice to stay home wasn’t practical for workers already facing razor-thin budgets. “They continued to work on the front lines while the uncertainty was high,” Forte said. “A lot of places didn’t have proper PPE (personal protective equipment) or access to it.”  


COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the role income inequality plays when it comes to health. Income is one of many factors that make up what public health experts refer to as social determinants of health. There’s growing agreement that these factors, which also include things like access to healthy food, discrimination, housing instability, education and how safe your neighborhood is, are the main drivers of health. In fact, more than 80% of what goes into how healthy people are, isn’t driven by the medical care they receive but by social determinants of health. Broadly, health is much more dependent on our own behaviors, the environment we live in and certain socioeconomic factors than the medical care we receive.  

These social determinants are so strong that the neighborhood you’re born into is actually a predictor of how long you’ll live, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics. On average, Michiganders can expect to live to be about 78 years old but certain neighborhoods in the state fall far below that. 

Residents in the Baxter neighborhood can expect to live to be 75 years old but drive a little more than two miles to East Grand Rapids and average life expectancy shoots up to 91 years – a 16-year difference.  

Baxter Community Center

Baxter Community Center is located in the heart of the Baxter neighborhood in SE Grand Rapids.

In some Detroit neighborhoods, life expectancy only averages 62 years – 16 years lower than the state average and nearly 30 years lower than someone born in East Grand Rapids.  

What accounts for the loss of years of life for some Michiganders? Evidence points to the different aspects that make up social determinants of health.   

“The research is clear: Social determinants influence health disparities and burden certain population groups with higher rates of illness, injury, disability and mortality,” said Daniel J. Loepp, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “To eliminate these disadvantages, communities must have equal access to the resources that improve quality of life.” 


Even before COVID-19, the stress and pressure to meet simple, basic needs was familiar to many in the Baxter neighborhood, where 42% of families live on less than $25,000 per year. 

“Most of the people we serve, work every day,” Forte said. “Most of the folks that we serve are trying to make ends meet.” Services offered at Baxter include a child development center, health center, market pantry and youth mentoring.    

Sonja Forte

Sonja Forte, executive director, Baxter Community Center at the center’s market pantry.

When residents access services at Baxter’s health center, they fill out a questionnaire that relates to different aspects of social determinants of health. Forte said it helps guide resources and programming to address barriers like transportation and childcare that make it harder to get to appointments.  

“Missed visits aren’t always because people don’t care or just choose not to go,” Forte said.  

Generational poverty in the Baxter neighborhood means residents born there are starting behind their peers born in East Grand Rapids, where median household income is $133,982. That means Baxter kids might not have access to the same types of childcare and educational opportunities. They often don’t have parents who are able to fund their college education and perhaps kick in funding for a down payment on a starter home. Their parents might be working more than one job just to make ends meet, which could mean they don’t have as much adult supervision or guidance at home. A lack of resources means it can be harder to get fresh food and find time to fit in physical exercise as a family.  

All those factors add up, leading to stress and an increased risk of poor mental health. Forte said people feel like they’ve personally failed, when really, they started the race of life far behind others.  

“They need to do all these things on their own and they’re measured against folks who were handed a starter kit,” she explained.    


When it comes to health, there are hurdles for some that don’t exist for others. These hurdles exist in the neighborhoods we live in and affect how healthy we are. They might not look the same, but obstacles exist in the rural reaches of the Upper Peninsula, in the resort towns of the northern Lower Peninsula and in the downtowns of Lansing, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and other locales.     

The United Way’s ALICE report, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, examines the prevalence of families struggling to afford basic needs. In 2019, ALICE data found that 1.66 million households in Michigan – 43% of the population – couldn’t afford basics such as food, housing, health care, childcare, transportation and technology. These households are made up of all races, ages, genders and family compositions.  

For these families, the cost of living outpaces what they earn, and they’re often just one missed paycheck away from a financial crisis. For people of color, the disparities are even worse. 

Our ALICE report confirms many households are having a difficult time as costs continue to rise. This puts them under increased pressure to meet their most basic needs, including healthcare,” says Tonya Adair, chief impact officer, United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “Any crisis, like a pandemic, can heighten the effects of economic disparities on families. This also impacts their ability to access much-needed care. United Way, working with our partner organizations, is laser-focused on addressing issues directly affecting a family’s ability to provide stability, where their children have an opportunity to grow and thrive.” 


Over the next 12 months, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan journalists will be diving into some of the environmental and socioeconomic reasons behind poorer health for certain neighborhoods and groups of people. We’ll be looking at topics such as food insecurity, poverty and employment, education, housing and more. Along the way, we’ll talk to community organizations working to address these social determinants of health in neighborhoods and communities across Michigan. 

“Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s longstanding mission is to improve the health of all residents,” Loepp said. “Over the last decade, we’ve taken a comprehensive approach to identify and address the disparities affecting vulnerable populations to ensure we meet the needs of our diverse members. 

We’re proud to be the largest private donor to Michigan’s free clinics, providing low-cost medical, dental and mental health care for safety net programs for the uninsured and underinsured,” Loepp continued. “Additionally, our organization has introduced policies that emphasize health equity, cultural competency and the quality of health care delivery. We’re connecting members to physicians, raising awareness of implicit bias through education, supporting organizations to address food insecurity and partnering with foundations to expand access to telehealth services for everyone.”  

Courtesy of BCBSM.

8 Things You Should Know About the Flu Shot

The flu kills an average of 20,000 people every year–even those considered healthy. Though it tends to be a much debated topic, 105,00 flu hospitalizations were prevented by vaccinations during the 2019-2020 influenza season.

The flu season begins in October and lasts through February each year. It is considered an annual epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is especially important this year to help reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses, like the flu.

Knowing that most Michiganders go unprotected from this illness, learning the facts of the flu vaccine is one of the best ways to protect yourself and others against potentially fatal consequences.

Know the Facts

  1. The flu vaccine does not cause the flu: The flu vaccination consists of inactivated flu virus particles and therefore cannot replicate and give an individual influenza. It is possible that a patient may experience symptoms after a shot however, they are significantly less severe than the flu.
  2. The flu vaccine is effective: While there’s always a risk of contracting the flu, vaccinations significantly lower the risk and protect patients from experiencing severe symptoms in case they do become ill.
  3. Influenza affects adults and children: The annual strains of Influenza virus pose a risk for people of all ages. An annual influenza vaccination is recommended for all those ages six months and older who do not have a contraindication to the vaccine.
  4. Chronic conditions heighten the risk: Patients managing diabetes, heart disease, asthma/COPD and other chronic disease are at a higher risk poor outcomes due to contracting the flu virus. The symptoms of flu disease combined with pre-existing conditions can potentially lead to fatal results.
  5. Vaccinations during pregnancy: According to the CDC, the flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women. Studies show that pregnant woman who receive vaccinations can also protect the baby from the flu post-birth.
  6. Healthy people need the vaccine, too: Though individuals managing chronic conditions are especially urged to get vaccinated, those with a clean bill of health should do so as well. Not only does it keep the individual safe, it lowers the likelihood of spreading illness to those who are more susceptible.
  7. Flu season continues past fall: While the most common time to get vaccinated is between October and November, preventive measures should continue throughout January and February. But keep in mind flu season can last as long as April or May.  According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, January through February is considered the “peak time” of flu season.
  8. Symptoms aren’t always obvious: Most people who contract influenza will recover in one to two weeks, but some may develop serious complications from the virus that impact their respiratory systems. For safe measure, take all symptoms seriously and consult a primary care provider with questions or concerns. Early symptoms of the flu may include cough, diarrhea, fever or feverish/chills, fatigue, headaches, sore throat, muscle or body aches, upset stomach, runny or stuffy nose, vomiting.

Does my insurance cover flu shots? Blue Cross members can find out how much of the cost will be covered  and where to get one at

Courtesy of BCBSM.