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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.
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.
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.