It’s fall! I love the gorgeous turning leaves, pumpkin patch photo shoots, crisp weather, scarves and boots. My son and I have fall birthdays. I just enjoy everything about the colors, smells, and traditions of this time of year. Autumn is my favorite. But when it arrives, it ushers in a simultaneous season that I love a heck of a lot less.
Flu. Ugh. Respiratory viruses are the bane of my existence, and influenza is one of the worst. My youngest son has asthma. We spend the cold weather seasons washing our hands with fervor and praying to all the gods that he stays healthy.
To keep him as safe as we can, our family gets flu shots in early September every single year. This year, I’m pregnant, so it was even more important for me than usual. High fever usually accompanies the flu, and it’s not ideal for a developing fetus for mom to run a really high temp.
We did what we could to protect ourselves, but both of my kids started school this year. They’re surrounded by more kids than ever, and that means they’re exposed to more germs than ever.
When my older son came home early from school last week with a sudden high fever, his doctor recommended strep and flu tests, just in case.
Strep was negative. Phew.
Flu was positive. Ugghhhh.
Yup. My vaccinated boy had the flu.
I’ll admit, it piqued my anxiety more than a little bit. I immediately imagined this fever as the beginning of a long, uncomfortable week. I assumed the rest of us would also get it, and I was really worried about my asthmatic kid and the baby. I guess his flu shot didn’t cover whatever strain he picked up, so I figured none of our shots would protect us. I called my OB for instructions should I find myself with a high fever, and we canceled all our weekend plans. I stocked up on soup, juice, Jell-o and popsicles, and readied myself for the worst weekend ever.
As it turns out, that was not totally necessary. Our weekend turned out fine.
My oldest son spent one day in bed with a high fever. He took a few naps and watched all the Toy Story movies. He didn’t want to eat much, and he went to bed early.
I know, I know. My kids still got the flu. Shouldn’t I be a total flu shot skeptic by now? Nope. I totally should not.
The next day, he woke up feeling completely fine. But now my little guy had a cough and a fever. He was kind of whiny that day, but he never lost energy like his brother. He was his usual whirlwind self. Just a little warmer.
By the next day, both kids’ temps were hovering right around 100 degrees without medication. Their personalities and appetites were back to normal. We stayed home a couple more days to make sure we didn’t pass the virus on, and then when we were 24 hours fever-free, we resumed our normal activities.
The Jell-o and popsicles are sitting untouched in my kitchen. Nobody wanted or needed them.
I never got sick; neither did my husband.
The Great Influenza Scare of 2019 turned out to be just another cough and fever. Totally NBD.
And that, my friends, is why we never skip a flu shot.
I know, I know. My kids still got the flu. Shouldn’t I be a total flu shot skeptic by now?
Nope. I totally should not. The flu shot didn’t cause my boys to get the flu. That’s not a thing. The immune response to a flu shot can be pretty intense. The vaccine can definitely make people feel achy and uncomfortable for a few days, but it can’t cause a flu infection. The virus in a flu shot has been killed, and dead things can’t reproduce. There’s no plausible mechanism for flu infection from the vaccine itself. (The same cannot be said for the waiting room at the doctor’s office where you got it…)
High flu shot rates are our best hope of defense against this illness that still kills thousands of people every single year. Our family will always do our part.
Science tells us that the flu shot can make our experience with the flu shorter and less severe. My kids are walking proof.
I knew going in that getting the shot didn’t mean we could never get the flu. As far as vaccines are concerned, flu shot effectiveness is pretty low. When you consider that some vaccines provide 97-99% immunity, the flu shot efficacy rate, which varies widely by the year, doesn’t sound so great.
But some chance of protection is better than none.
Did you know that total prevention is not the only goal of the flu vaccine?
According to the CDC, even if you still get the flu after the flu shot, you are likely to benefit from your vaccine.
Research has linked flu vaccination to a decreased likelihood of hospitalization. Vaccinated chronic heart and lung patients are less likely to experience some devastating flu-related complications. Vaccinated people who end up in the hospital are much less likely to find themselves in the ICU, and they recover faster than unvaccinated patients. A 2017 study even showed that a flu vaccinated child is less likely to die from influenza than their unvaccinated counterparts.
Basically, science tells us that the flu shot can make our experience with the flu shorter and less severe.
My kids are walking proof. Even my kid with complicated airways made it out unscathed. We didn’t have to break out the inhaler or nebulizer even once.
The flu sucks. Even when it doesn’t cause hospitalization and death, it can just be really miserable. It’s a bummer that you can get the flu shot, and you might still get the flu. Science is doing its best. I promise. Influenza mutates fairly easily, and there are a lot of strains. It’s a tough virus to vaccinate against.
But getting the vaccine we have available is still important.
Getting a flu shot makes you way less likely to be one of the thousands of people who are hospitalized and even die every year from the flu and its complications. Your participation in the recommended vaccination program helps protect those with certain allergies and immune conditions that can’t get the flu shot.
Scientists are hopeful that universal flu vaccine might be available someday. That would be amazing. But until we get there, yearly flu shots are the best we can do, and it’s not too late.
If you’re medically able, you really should.