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Why Everyone Should Get the Flu Vaccine

Every year, my kids and I get the flu vaccine. We do it because influenza, which is the virus responsible for “The Flu,” can cause more than just an inconvenient cold. It can give you fevers that soar to 105 degrees, muscle aches so profound you feel like you cannot stand and a headache that sends you into a tailspin.

Some people get through flu relatively unscathed. Others are laid up for a week. And then there are the unlucky ones, the folks who don’t survive the flu.

The way you feel after the vaccine doesn’t hold a candle to how you feel with real flu.

When I mention that flu can kill, I often get blank stares. People want to say to me: “Not in this country.” Or “Well, that seems a little dramatic, don’t you think?”

No, it’s not dramatic. And yes, it happens in this country, anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 times every year depending upon the circulating virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu torments people of all sizes and races, but it especially likes to target babies and the elderly. It picks on people with compromised immune systems like diabetics and chemotherapy recipients, and it harasses asthmatics and others with less-than-perfect lungs. Influenza is a tiny but potent bully.

People say to me: “I get sick right after I get the flu vaccine.” No you don’t. The vaccine doesn’t lay you up for a week with shaking chills and a cough that makes you gag. It doesn’t make you so sick that cooking your kids’ breakfast seems like a Herculean task. The way you feel after the vaccine doesn’t hold a candle to how you feel with real flu.

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People say to me: “Even when I get the flu vaccine, I still get sick later that year.” Yes, you do. You get a cold or a stomach virus or one of many other infections that course through our communities and make us sick. They are often called “The Flu” (even “The Stomach Flu”) but that’s as accurate as calling my second grade daughter’s art project a “masterpiece” or my mom’s hair “blond." Just because we lump and categorize things in this world does not mean we do it accurately. So when you have a sneeze and a sniffle and a little sinus headache a month or two after the flu vaccine, you aren't coming down with the flu.

People say to me: “I promised my kids no more shots.” Well, the good thing is that flu vaccine comes in a nasal spray form, and as long as you don’t have certain underlying medical conditions, you get a choice between the spray and an injection. The other good thing is that promises are meant to be broken, especially when you are doing something that will help your kid.

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People say to me: “I can use natural remedies to prevent flu and more natural remedies to fight it if I get sick.” I am all for natural, but the reality is that most “natural” supplements are sold without being subject to testing or quality assurance. In other words, you have no guarantee that what you are taking is what the label promises. And let’s not forget safety testing—most supplements are not studied for safety, especially in kids. So you can use all sorts of natural stuff, but I cannot guarantee that they will be safe or effective.

People say to me: “I don’t have time to go get the vaccine.” It takes five minutes to walk into your doctor’s office or pharmacy to get the vaccine. It can take five days to recover from flu. Vaccines are available starting in September all the way through the winter until February or even March. There is a way to fit it in.

People say to me: “I am not traveling this year, so I don’t need the vaccine.” Really? You live in complete and utter isolation, far away from anyone else who travels or just gets sick? You don’t work in an office or shop at a grocery store or take your kids to school? OK, then you are right, you are the one person who probably doesn’t need flu vaccine.

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