I got my flu shot on Friday. The worst part? My office nurse made me weigh and take my blood pressure before she would give me the vaccination. Talk about ouch!
“Should I get my flu shot?” is one of the most frequently encountered questions I answer between the months of October and February. My answer; almost always a resounding “yes.” Why? Not only because the flu is terrible to have, it kills people. And I’m not talking about the “my husband has the flu and now he acts like he’s dying but I might kill him instead” kills people. Like it really kills people. While the current reporting systems don’t allow us to know exactly how many people die from the flu in the US annually it is likely to be somewhere around 20,000 people including about 150 children. The young, the old, the pregnant and the immunocompromised are the most at risk.
So why would anyone question getting their flu vaccine? Oh, let me count the ways.
Many of my patients think the influenza vaccine can give them the flu. Wrong. It does create an immune reaction and you develop antibodies in about 2 weeks that should be protective against the flu. Most patients receive either the trivalent (traditional) or quadrivalent flu vaccine. Trivalent vaccines protect against an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. The quadrivalent vaccine (what my nurse was giving me in the above photo) has protection against an additional B virus. These are inactivated or recombinant immunizations which means, in short, they won’t give you the flu. And remember, it takes 2 weeks to be immune, so if you get the flu 2 days after you get your shot don’t blame the vaccine. Blame the person who exposed you to the flu virus before you were protected.
Some patients just don’t think they need the vaccine. Maybe they have never had the flu. Well, trust me that it only takes one week of feeling incredibly ill with the flu to convince most people they never want to skip out on vaccination again. I also tell my patients that even worse than getting the flu is giving it to someone else. If you have a child, a pregnant woman or a person over the age of 65 you care about then the influenza vaccine is for you. If you have friends or a family member who has cancer, asthma, diabetes or another immune disease then the flu vaccine is for you. Giving the flu to someone who is at high risk of hospitalization or death is not nice. Pregnant? Pregnant women who get the flu are more likely to have severe illness, be hospitalized or die from the flu. Scary much? Trust me, I repeat that line on a weekly basis. Plus, the infants of pregnant women who are vaccinated for influenza in pregnancy have protection that can last up to 6 months.
So what do I say when asked by someone if they should get the flu shot?
Yes. You’re pregnant and I don’t want to risk seeing you in the ICU with the flu. Plus your baby can’t receive a flu vaccine until 6 months of age and you want to protect your infant until they can protect themselves. You can be vaccinated in any trimester so trust me when I say if you don’t do it today I will ask you again at your next visit.
Yes. Immunizations carry much less risk than the diseases they protect you from. Does the flu vaccine guarantee that you will not get the flu? No. But it does significantly reduce your risk. You still need to wash your hands, avoid sick people, cover your mouth when you cough and all those good things your grandma has been telling you since you were small.
Yes. Getting a flu vaccine is more than just about protecting you. It’s about avoiding the flu so you don’t spread a virus to someone who can’t get vaccinated. Or spreading the illness to someone who could get very sick and hasn’t had time for their vaccine to be fully protected. Or your wife. Husbands, get your flu shot. If you give the flu to your wife no one will be happy. The Pastor had the flu last year and I literally locked him in one room of the house until he was no longer contagious.
Yes. Because you care about your kids and your family. My kids will be disappointed to learn the nasal spray isn’t recommended this year. The needle stick will be the worst part for them. But the good news is this…first, they get excited when they get on the scale at Dr. Melissa’s office (unlike me!) Second, they think doctors and nurses are awesome and trust that they will be protected. Finally, there are stickers…and probably treats on the way home.
So go get vaccinated. There are about 150 million doses available so I’m sure you can find one. Some more news for those of you still skeptical. Now you can be vaccinated if you are allergic to eggs. There is even an intradermal version: which means the needle is about 90% smaller for those adults in the group who are afraid of sharp things seen above. No matter if the weight or the blood pressure measurement or the waiting in line to get it done or the actual needle stick is the worst part. This gynecologist and pastor’s wife thinks it will be worth it.
(photo credit my arm, Heather’s hands and Erika for being the photog.)