It isn’t hard to find a reason not to get the flu shots. There are lots, and they’re all bogus.
It is true that the odds are you’ll go through the flu season without catching it, even without the vaccine. If you do get it, you probably will just have an ordinary case.
On the other hand, the flu will kill tens of thousands of people. To paraphrase Dirty Harry, how lucky do you feel?
This year, in addition to the regular seasonal flu strains, we have the new H1N1 – the swine flu. They’re different diseases and require different shots, plus the shot for pneumonia, which is what most often kills in flu. The vaccines are easy to find and cheap – free if you can’t afford cheap.
So why not get a shot that will keep you healthy and maybe save your life?
1. It hasn’t been tested to prove it’s safe. The US Food & Drug Administration oversees vaccine production. Flu vaccine has been produced every year for so long it no longer requires testing as new drugs do, because it isn’t new. It’s been done the same way for decades, 100 million doses a year. It’s a proven process.
But swine flu is a new vaccine. The only difference between one year’s vaccine and another is the dead virus in it, which teaches your immune system how to recognize that strain of flu. It’s like a missing-child picture on a milk carton. Does changing the picture throw the safety of the milk into question?
Didn’t you just say they don’t require testing every year? Yes, but the FDA knew people would be anxious about the new flu, so they did require additional testing for the H1N1 vaccine. Rather than cutting corners, they added corners. The vaccine passed the tests.
2. The flu shot can give you the flu. No, it can’t. The shot you get in your arm has a dead virus, and a dead virus can’t make you sick. If you’re already infected, you’ll still get sick, but not because of the shot. If you get the seasonal flu shot and catch the swine flu, you’ll still get sick. It is even possible to catch the same flu you got the shot for, but if that happens, it’ll be a milder case. The inhalable mist is a live virus, and a few people report very mild flu-like symptoms from it, but it’s rare.
3. The last time they gave swine flu vaccine, it made people sick. Maybe. The connection between the 1976 vaccine (for a different swine flu virus) and Guillain-Barre Syndrome has never been established by science.
GBS occurs naturally in one out of 500,000 people, and among vaccine recipients the rate went up by one per million. It could have been the vaccine, or it could have been a statistical aberration. Two studies have shown the 1-in-a-million number may be valid; others show it’s not. All studies agree the flu itself is a known Guillain-Barre trigger. And this is not the 1976 vaccine anyway.
4. I’m pregnant and don’t want to take anything that might hurt my baby. Testing on the H1N1 vaccine in pregnant women showed no unique problem. The benefits, on the other hand, are major. The big one is that pregnant women have trouble with flu anyway...it kills them at six times the rate for the general population! A lesser benefit is your immunity can pass to your baby, so while Junior is still too young be vaccinated, he’ll already have some resistance to flu.
5. Vaccinations cause autism. Science hasn’t established that. Nobody knows what causes autism, so the hunt continues, but the cause hasn’t been found yet. Some claim vaccinations do, but nobody’s proved it.
The charge is that the trigger is mercury, an ingredient in thimerosal, an ingredient in vaccines. But not all mercuries are the same. The environmental toxin that is retained in the body and damages health is methylmercury. Thimerosal contains ethylmercury, which processes out of the body quickly and is gone. Too, thimerosal is used only in multi-dose containers of flu vaccine. If you’re worried about it, ask for a pre-loaded, single-shot syringe, which has no thimerosal.
6. My family is healthy, so we don’t need it. Good health is a blessing, but has nothing to do with your vulnerability to flu. It may make your symptoms less severe, but it also can have the opposite effect and make your case worse.
An oddity about the swine flu has been that it hits healthy young people hard. Nobody knows why...it is a trait this flu shares with the killer Spanish Flu of 1918. You already have seen news stories about young children, teens, and post-adolescents who suddenly crash into a life-threatening condition, and sometimes die. The stories often mention that the victims were healthy and had no underlying medical condition.
7. We practice good personal hygiene, so we don’t need it. Good personal hygiene is good, but not a replacement for vaccination.
Hand-washing, sanitizing, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home when you’re infectious all reduce your chances of getting or spreading flu. Other people don’t, of course, and even your own defenses are less than perfect. Someone coughs an aerosol of virus into the air just before you walk by, you grab a door handle touched by a hundred people a day, or you handle money, which is crawling with germs in the best of times. And how careful are your kids are when you’re not around? Their friends sure aren’t.
8. It’s too late to get the H1N1 shot. This would be too ridiculous to mention except for the internet, where it circulates. The swine flu vaccine isn’t even out yet for most people, and even the seasonal flu vaccine is just now being widely distributed.
If logic won’t make the case in favor of vaccination, here’s the math. Your chances are about:
1 in 2 or 3 of catching the H1N1 swine flu by the end of May.
1 in 400 of dying of complications of the flu if you’re pregnant.
1 in 2,500 of dying of complications of the flu if you’re not pregnant.
1 in 250,000 of having a vaccine reaction bad enough to need medical attention.
Remember that those numbers are just for the swine flu. The regular seasonal flu season hasn’t started yet, and it will kill 36,000 by itself, just as it does every year.
The best protection is to get your shots.