As the summer begins to fade and the days become cooler, I brace myself for my least favorite part of the fall season: the flu shot debate. Inevitably, someone will post some alarmist article about the dangers of flu shots and, as a registered nurse, I will roll my eyes so hard that I almost suffer a brain hemorrhage.
I feel strongly about the benefits of the flu shot, and while I can absolutely respect another parent’s right to make choices for their children’s health, I cannot respect statements with no basis in fact. If you are a parent with a medical degree from the University of Google and you complain to me that flu shots are dangerous, there’s a fair chance that I will get into an argument with you.
Time and again, experts have proven that the flu shot is safe, effective, and does not cause autism or any other spectrum disorder (that’s enough, Jenny McCarthy). Nothing frosts me more as a medical professional than when I hear parents making statements about the flu shot that are either clear misnomers or so completely wrong that I’d swear Dr. Drake Remore was their family pediatrician (God, I miss Joey from Friends).
By and large, the influenza virus affects between 5 to 20% of the U.S. population, depending on the virility of the influenza virus strain in a given year. And while the Centers for Disease Control is not able to compile exact numbers of flu deaths because influenza complications can cause a myriad of other deadly conditions, it is estimated that nearly 200,000 Americans are hospitalized by flu-related illnesses per year. Anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 people die per year from a virus that is easily preventable with a small injection once a year.
Regardless of the exact statistics, when you don’t get a flu shot for you and your kids, you put others in danger — and I am not okay with your choice to refrain from doing so.
Whenever someone insists to me that they refuse to get a flu shot, I immediately wonder if they feel the same way about hand-washing, or cleaning up vomit in their homes, or public sanitation. All of these measures are proven ways to not only protect yourself from germs but also those around you. We worry that our waitress didn’t wash her hands in the bathroom before serving our food, so why aren’t we worried that she could be breathing flu virus all over our bruschetta appetizer? Seriously, people, the flu vaccine has been proven over and over to be effective and the vaccine is just as important during flu season as hand washing. Just get the vaccine already, please?
Also, a word about the herd, if I may. Your community, your workplace, your social circle, and all the places you interact with people is your “herd.” If most of your herd gets vaccinated for the flu — those people who are able-bodied, healthy, and cleared to receive the vaccine — there’s practically no place for the influenza virus to propagate and flourish. Community immunity protects those who can’t get the vaccine for a variety of legit medical reason because there’s no one to pass the virus on to them. Getting the flu vaccine makes you an even better neighbor than the one who always brings that irresistible buffalo chicken dip to block parties.
Other excuses that drive me batshit bonkers:
1. I’ll get the flu if I get the vaccine.
The flu vaccine you receive is an inactive or weak virus. It’s physically impossible for you to get the flu from the vaccine. Really. Just stop it because you sound ridiculous.
2. I’m too busy.
Oh, but you have the time to be laid up in bed for 7 to 10 days, writhing in agony while your laundry piles up and your kids destroy your house?
3. I don’t like needles.
Put your big kid pants on and suck it up. Seriously. It’s a tiny pinch and you’ll get a lollipop. Grow up.
4. It causes autism.
Uhm, no. The only person who still believes that is Jenny McCarthy. Even the guy who said it has admitted he was wrong.
5. Drug companies are getting rich off of vaccines.
Nope. Flu vaccines are not a profitable market for flu vaccine makers. And, besides, everyone knows the real money is in jacking up the prices of life-saving EpiPens. Duh.
6. But last year’s vaccine didn’t even work, so why should I bother?
Yes, it’s true that occasionally, the flu shot does not match well to the influenza strain that is infecting patients. Because of the nature of flu vaccine production, scientists must decide nine months ahead of time which strain is likely to infect the masses, and that can be tricky. The fact is, though, they are right on the money more than they aren’t, so just shut up and the shot because it’s worth it.
7. I’m allergic to eggs.
Admittedly, this one is slightly tricky, but I’m going to go ahead and call foul play on this one. For the most part, doctors agree that inactivated viruses are safe for patients with egg allergies with close monitoring after the injection. Egg-cellent.
8. Those vaccines are full of toxins.
Uh huh. Pretty much anything you come in contact with will cause side effects in excess, but news flash: The flu vaccine is 0.5 mLs of fluid. That tiny amount is a drop in the human body ocean, I promise. The polio vaccine uses the same chemical agents, and you know what we don’t have an epidemic of in this country? Polio.
As a mother, I am outraged by parents who not only don’t see the necessity of vaccinating their children against a deadly virus but who also won’t do me the solid of helping to protect my kids from influenza.
As a nurse, I am offended by the number of people who don’t take the time to be educated on a vaccine that is safe and that could save their lives. When I proudly lift up my sleeve in my doctor’s office and take the injection like a trooper, I know that I’m doing my part to keep my community safe and that’s a good feeling.
And when they hand me a lollipop and a sticker for my bravery, that doesn’t suck, either.