So it’s December, and we’re well into flu season. Many people have already gotten their flu shot [ high five], but based on the statistics less than 50% of people receive the vaccine every year. Among those who don’t get vaccinated, I tend to see the following types of personalities:
The Procrastinator– actually plans to get their flu shot but hasn’t gotten around to it yet
The Renegade- knows they should get it, but are taking their chances. Probably doesn’t wear a seat belt either.
The Superman – never caught the flu, so obviously are immune, right? (wrong)
The Skeptic- doesn’t think the flu vaccine works, or actually considers it dangerous.
As a primary care doctor, part of my mission is to educate on the purpose of vaccinations, and flu vaccine especially. Because I’ve seen first hand the devastating consequences of contracting the influenza virus (being hospitalized, intubated, dying from influenza pneumonia ). You may think that only high-risk people (babies, pregnant women, folks >65 years) can have complications, but it can happen even in young healthy people depending on the strain of flu.
So from personal experience, I’ve compiled a “most commonly asked questions” about the flu vaccine, and the answers that we doctors provide!
I DON’T BELIEVE IN THE FLU SHOT
The flu vaccine is not Santa Claus or Bigfoot. It exists, I can show you the vial. I know you know it’s actually a real thing. So what you’re really saying is, I don’t believe in getting the flu shot- which is thus saying; I don’t believe in trying to protect myself from a deadly virus that causes up to 56,000 deaths a year, and over 300,000 hospitalizations . Which as a physician who strongly believes in prevention, just doesn’t make sense to me.
I’VE NEVER GOTTEN THE FLU SHOT AND I NEVER GOT THE FLU
Lucky you! But guess what, your luck can run out at any point. And the older you get, your probability of getting the flu go up. Because as we age, our immune system ages too and naturally weakens. We know that the most susceptible people to the flu are folks over 65, babies younger than 6 months, pregnant women and other conditions associated with weakened immunity (HIV, chemo patients, diabetes etc). But even if you don’t fall in this age group, don’t think you’re in the clear. The flu can kill young, healthy people too…or at the very least put you out of commission for a few painful days. Have you ever gotten the flu? I have, and it seriously feels like you got tap danced on by a Mack truck. So why risk it?
I BARELY GO OUTSIDE THERE’S NO WAY I CAN CATCH IT
Do you go to the grocery store? Do you touch the freezer door handle when you go to grab frozen vegetables? Do you touch the credit card box when paying for your stuff? If so, your hands are teeming with all the germs from the person who touched that thing before you…so yes you can still get the flu. Ok, you don’t go outside. Do you have visitors? Consider yourself exposed. My point it, unless you literally live in a bubble there are always opportunities for you to be exposed, and the flu is highly contagious.
I GOT THE FLU SHOT IN FEBRUARY, DO I REALLY NEED ANOTHER ONE?
Yup. If you got it earlier in the year that was last season’s vaccine. The one they’re giving out now is an updated vaccine for this flu season (we tend to consider Sept-Oct the beginning of the season, although it varies year to year). Plus, your immunity only lasts on average 5 months so the protective effect has worn off by now.
I/MY MOM/NEIGHBOR/PASTOR GOT THE FU SHOT AND THE NEXT DAY WAS SICK AS A DOG.
Ok, this one always takes the longest to explain. Firstly, keep in mind that it takes at least 2 weeks for your immune system to respond to the vaccine. And keep in mind that the flu vaccine does NOT CONTAIN A LIVE VIRUS, so you literally cannot get the flu from the shot. The flu vaccine contains a DEAD virus that just tricks your body into believing it was exposed to the real thing. So getting the flu from the flu vaccine is the equivalent of being attacked by the deer antlers hanging above your fireplace.
(note: the nasal spray does have live,attenuated virus. But the spray is not recommended this year anyway so don’t worry about it)
So when people get the vaccine and feel sick afterward, it happens either because:
1 . You were already exposed to a cold/ flu virus and the vaccine didn’t have enough time in your body to protect you. (it takes 1-4 days after flu exposure to start having symptoms)
2. Your immune system started to activate in response to the vaccine, which is awesome, but some of the symptoms mimick an actual infection, which doesn’t feel so awesome. To this point, I always try to look on the bright side. If you felt that way just from a dead piece of the flu virus, can you imagine how you would’ve felt to actually get the flu? 10 times worse, I’m sure.
WHY WOULD I ALLOW MYSELF TO BE INJECTED WITH POISONOUS MERCURY
Study after study after study has disproven the theory that the vaccine has toxic mercury levels in it. Yes, the multi-dose vials of flu vaccine do contain thimerosol, which is a mercury -containing preservative used to prevent contamination . But if you’re not comfortable with the thought, you can request the single-vial vaccine which contains no thimerosol at all . Problem solved!
I JUST DON’T WANT TO PUT A VIRUS IN MY BODY IF I DON’T HAVE TO
You don’t HAVE to put a (dead) virus in your body. But the purpose of the vaccine is to trick your body that is has been exposed, thus prepping your immune system, so that when the real (potentially dangerous) virus comes along, you’ll be ready for it. That thought of prevention appeals to me, and I hope it does to you too!
**Of course, there are a small percentage of people who cannot safely receive the flu vaccine (click here for more info.**
Have you gotten your flu vaccine yet? Has this post helped you in your decision? Let me know!