The Flu Shot Doesn't Cause The Flu––Stop Saying Dumb Sh*t And Get Your Shot

by Paige Millington
Originally Published: 

Sorry Mary Ellen, but no one is going to tolerate your flu shot excuses this year. We don’t want to hear you’re “too busy” or “It makes you sick” or “It doesn’t work” or that, in general, you’re just “anti-vax” (seriously, if you’re that last one please STFU forever and ever, amen.)

Don’t say you “don’t have time” because guess what? No one does. Every single grownup I know is drowning. Drowning in virtual school and pandemic fears and mental health struggles and physical health struggles and a crashing economy and election anxiety. All of us. It doesn’t matter. We still need to get our asses to CVS or Walgreens or the walk-in clinic or the physician’s office or wherever we can get one.

No excuses this year. We all must find the time or make the time to protect ourselves and others around us. We’ve already lost too much to risk skipping the flu shot this fall.

We’re also all set with “I’ve never received the flu shot before and don’t plan to start now!” Stop it, Carol. There is no trophy for “not dying” in previous winters when exposed to the flu. We’re living through a fucking pandemic and hundreds of thousands of people have died. There is no room for your idiotic selfishness anymore.

Also, no one wants to hear that the vaccine “gives you the flu” because that’s blatantly not true, and we all need to quit spreading that harmful lie.

“The flu vaccine can’t give you the flu,” Mayo Clinic explains. “It also does not increase your risk of COVID-19.” However, knowing that some people feel ill after getting the shot, Mayo Clinic explains that this effect could be because you’re having a reaction to the vaccine (which might include aches and/or a fever), or because the vaccine hasn’t taken full effect yet and you were exposed to the influenza virus, or because you are fighting the common cold, which sometimes looks and feels like the flu.

These are all possible scenarios. The flu shot “giving you the flu” is not.

The CDC, who recommends we get the flu vaccine every year, is strongly encouraging all of us to get one this year for several reasons (most of which should be obvious). First of all, in case you hadn’t noticed, doctors offices and hospitals have had a rough few months. They’re exhausted, depleted, and are still fielding a pandemic that is showing no signs of going away yet.

“Healthcare systems could be overwhelmed treating both patients with flu and patients with COVID-19,” the CDC website cautions. “This means getting a flu vaccine during 2020-2021 is more important than ever.”

Don’t believe me? Check out these numbers, provided by Charles Chiu, MD, PhD, an infectious disease expert at UC San Francisco. “In a bad flu season, which peaks from December to February, 40 million to 50 million Americans may catch the flu, with some 800,000 requiring hospitalization,” Dr. Chiu says.

800,000 hospital beds could be needed this flu season. Does anyone actually think that after all these months of fighting COVID-19, there will be that many beds available? Instead, guess what could happen to you if you feel sick and need hospital care? You’ll be tested for COVID, and if you’re negative, you’ll be turned away if there are no beds. Even if you’re severely ill. We know this, because it already happened. Hospitals have already been at capacity at various times throughout this pandemic, so we must brace ourselves for that happening again.

So just get a damn flu shot, and avoid a preventable illness. It’s that easy.

Not only is the CDC reminding us that “flu vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization, and death” (which, tbh, we’ve had enough of this year), but they’re also addressing the likelihood that some brainless keyboard warrior will say, “The flu shot doesn’t prevent coronavirus!” …Yeah, we know, Stuart. You should still get one so that you stay healthy and don’t need to be yet another person using hospital resources when your illness was completely preventable.

Also, flu symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms are similar, so if you get vaccinated for influenza, you’re likely to be one less person with those symptoms, and one less person asking for a COVID-19 test, which we know are in high demand.

Furthermore, medical experts are worried about the dangers of a flu/COVID-19 combo. This highly contagious virus is hard enough on the body—on a healthy body. Now imagine a body already weakened by the seasonal flu. Or imagine your lungs having to fight off both the onslaught of the flu and the coronavirus. No thanks, germs. I like the ability to inhale oxygen, thanks.

And again, like every other aspect of this pandemic, there’s still so much we do not know. We don’t yet know how the combination of a seasonal flu exposure and COVID-19 exposure will affect our organs and immune systems. We don’t know how bad it will be, who will be able to overcome it, and who will not. So here’s an idea—don’t be the guinea pig that finds out. Get your flu shot.

The truth is, flu shots work. They help us, because if we don’t get sick, we can continue to go to work, school, and take care of our families.

And they help the greater society as well. “The flu vaccine prevents millions of illnesses and flu-related doctor’s visits each year,” the CDC says, citing the following statistics to support this claim:

  • During 2018-2019, the flu vaccine prevented an estimated 4.4 million influenza illnesses, 2.3 million influenza-associated medical visits, 58,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations, and 3,500 influenza-associated deaths.
  • It’s also been shown to reduce the risk of having to go to the doctor with the flu by up to 60%.
  • In recent years, the vaccine reduced children’s risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admission by 74% during flu seasons.
  • And, among adults, it reduced the risk of being admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) with flu by 82%.

But tell us again how the flu shot doesn’t work. We’re listening. (Kidding. We’re not. Because you’re wrong.)

The one term that has remained a constant throughout this COVID-19 pandemic is the “at risk population.” This means people with compromised immune systems, the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions like lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes, pregnant women, and infants.

Guess who the flu shot helps? All of the above. (Even newborns, who are protected for the first few months of life if Mom gets the flu shot while pregnant.)

Because that’s one of the core similarities to preventative measures like vaccines, wearing masks, social distancing, etc. Taking precautions like these mean that you care about yourself and others. Getting a flu shot, like everything else we’ve been asked to do this year, is for the greater good. It’s to help public health overall, not just our own.

Getting your flu shot and your kids’ flu shots means that not only will your household have a better shot at fending off the flu, but also that you won’t get sick and infect your child’s teacher or Grandma Jane or the grocery store clerk working a double shift to make ends meet. And in a year that Grandma Jane and teachers and grocery store clerks are already at a greater risk due to COVID-19, why wouldn’t you, your kids, and Grams herself all make sure you at least got your flu shots so you have that part covered?

One more thing: While it’s more crucial than ever to get a flu vaccine this year, it’s also important that we do this every year. Why? Because every flu season is different. First of all, as Mayo Clinic explains, flu viruses evolve, and they evolve quickly. That means that last year’s vaccine is likely different from this year’s and won’t protect you from this year’s viruses. There’s reason a new flu vaccine is released every year—to keep up with new virus strains.

It’s that season, folks. Protect yourself. Protect your neighbor. Protect your mom and your great-aunt Martha and your kids’ teachers and the nice postal worker who delivers your mail. Get your flu shot. We’re depending on you.

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