We’re in the midst of autumn, and for most parts of the country cooler weather equals copper colored leaves and the unwanted ushering in of flu season. Every year, we hear about the importance of flu vaccinations which promise protection for the duration of the season. But do you know why you need a flu shot? Besides the obvious answer of reducing illness, flu shots also protect other groups of people who are unable to get vaccinated. Special populations like infants under 6 months old, people with egg allergies (the vaccine is grown using eggs), or people with a history of Guillian-Barré syndrome (an extremely rare but debilitating nervous system disease) cannot get vaccinated. What does this mean for everyone else? If you don’t fall into these categories, you need a flu shot—no excuses.
Let’s clear up a tired myth about the flu vaccine: You CANNOT get the flu from the flu shot. It’s impossible and here’s why: Current vaccines use inactive or dead flu viruses. Your body produces an immune response to create antibodies to protect you against strains found in the vaccine. While some people may experience mild side effects from the shot like muscle aches or fever, the flu itself is definitely not one. If you’re ill after getting the shot, chances are you’re fighting something unrelated to influenza or caught a strain the vaccine doesn’t cover. Skipping the vaccine means you could seriously sicken other people,—and I don’t mean those who lie in bed for a few days clutching tissue boxes. Pregnant women, persons with immunocompromised conditions like HIV, diabetics, cancer patients, or the elderly can develop life-threatening flu complications including pneumonia, organ failure, inflammation of the heart or brain, or sepsis, the body’s near fatal reaction to bacteria in the blood. Even if this doesn’t apply to you, the flu hospitalizes otherwise healthy people and kills thousands every year. Are you convinced now? It’s not my attempt to scare you into getting a shot but rather inform you about the possible complications and general discomfort that stems from influenza.
Scary statistics and facts aside, maybe you want a flu shot but are scared of needles. I’m definitely in this group. As someone who nearly faints when getting blood drawn (a recurring true story, unfortunately), it’s not hyperbole to say that the sight of any needle makes me feel sick. But I want to reassure you that it’s not that bad. My father is diabetic and my nieces are small children, so it’s equally important that I watch out for their health too. In recent years, a nasal version of the vaccine was available but has been since discontinued by the CDC because of lack of effectiveness when compared to the traditional shot. I get annual flu vaccines, and the yearly jab only hurts (if at all) for a few seconds. After that, I’m protected for the whole season! Don’t have time to see your doctor? You can get the shot at clinics or pharmacies for little to no money in some cases.
Here’s one last point if you’re still not convinced. The human body is amazing. You avoid being a walking Petri dish thanks to your immune system, which fights off viruses and germs before they sicken you. Don’t give it extra work by making it go toe-to-toe with the flu. Think you can’t catch the flu? Get vaccinated and give the flu less chances to catch you.