Thursday, October 6, 2011

Please, please, please get a flu shot

I am a proponent of flu shots. I used to avoid them, but after doing extensive research (for personal and professional purposes), I did a complete 180. If you are pregnant, the flu shot is particularly important because the flu is very dangerous to pregnant women and their babies. I realize some people never seem to get the flu, or believe they are healthy enough to handle it, etc. The thing is, the flu shot is not just about the individual receiving the shot -- it is about protecting the population at large. Especially those who are extra vulnerable like the elderly and the immune compromised (such as people fighting cancer or people who have had organ transplants). In my opinion, there are really no valid reasons to turn the flu shot down. With that said, I understand that people have a lot of concerns about the safety of the shot itself and I sympathize with those concerns. Many of the concerns, however, are based on myth rather than fact. Below is an article I wrote last year for that explains/dispels some of the myths surrounding the flu shot. If you are a flu shot naysayer, I hope you'll read it and reconsider your stance.

Vaccination fabrication
The truth about the flu shot
By Dawn Weinberger

Mythology didn’t begin and end with the ancient Greeks. Tall tales and false fables run rampant even today, and health-related topics like the flu vaccine are hardly, um, immune. But don’t worry, you won’t have to embark on a personal odyssey in order to separate flu fact from flu fiction. We’ve got the low-down for you right here.

Flu shot myth: Pregnant women should not get the flu shot.
Flu shot fact: Not only is the flu shot safe for pregnant women, it is recommended for pregnant women by health care providers, says Ilhem Messaoudi, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Oregon Health and Science University’s Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute. In fact, many distinguished organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American Academy of Pediatrics urge mothers-to-be to get the vaccination — passing it up is dangerous because coming down with the flu while pregnant can lead to all sorts of complications, such as preterm labor. Plus, a mother’s flu shot may even offer protection for the baby once he or she enters the world.

Flu shot myth:
The flu shot contains mercury.
Flu shot fact: Twenty yeas ago, this was true. Today? Not so much. Vaccines for children are now mercury free. And while vaccines for adults do contain trace amounts of a preservative /stabilizing agent called thimersol, which is 49 percent ethylmercury, there is no scientific evidence that this causes harm, Messaoudi says.

“This is how we can store and transport it safely,” she says.

Flu shot myth:
You can get sick from the flu shot because it contains live flu culture.
Flu shot fact: You cannot, I repeat, cannot get sick from the flu shot. The vaccine is what Messaoudi calls attenuated. In other words, an inactive virus that is unable to multiply and replicate. If you get the flu a few days after you receiving your vaccination, it is not the shot’s fault — it is because you were exposed to a virus prior to receiving your vaccination, Messaoudi explains.

“The vaccine offers protection two weeks after,” she says. “That is how long it takes to generate a response. It is not instantaneous.”

Flu shot myth: Experts are just guessing which strain of the flu it will cover.
Flu shot fact: Well, this myth is true, sort of. Messaoudi calls it an educated guess — a very educated guess. Doctors and scientists at the Centers for Disease Control, she says, study influenza year round and are extremely cognizant of influenza patterns and the types of viruses that are emerging. Plus, even though flu season peaks in January and February, there are always low levels of the virus around so they don’t have to wait for a full-on outbreak to do their research.

“Most of the time, they are pretty right on,” she says.

Flu shot myth: Everyone else is getting it, so I don’t need it.
Flu shot fact: The idea that person A doesn’t need the shot because persons B, C and D received it is just wrong, wrong, wrong, Messaoudi says. Everyone needs the vaccination so we can stop the virus in its track and avoid spreading it to those with weakened immune systems (such as infants, the elderly, and people with chronic health conditions).

“It’s called herd immunity,” she says. “It only works if everyone gets it.”

And what if you’re young and healthy? Yep, this applies to you, too. Anyone can get the flu, and anyone can die from the flu (the virus kills 36,000 each year). Plus, think of it this way: by getting the flu shot, you are minimizing the risk to your elderly or immune-compromised loved ones.

Flu shot myth:
If I don’t get vaccinated by Thanksgiving, so there’s no point.
Flu shot fact: While earlier is ideal, don’t throw in the towel if you haven’t made it to the flu shot clinic by the time the turkey is carved. As mentioned earlier, flu season peaks in January and February, so you’ve still got time, Messaoudi says. 

What do you think about the flu shot? Do you get one each year? Why or why not?


  1. Love your article, I'm a health care provider and couldn't agree more. The only thing that I would add is that the shot is killed virus which is why it is safe for pregnant women, immunocompromised pts, etc.

  2. Might want to add, if you are allergic to eggs (as my daughter is) you need to be very very careful about getting the flu shot. It contains egg protein (the medium used to culture the virus). Despite having a skin test on the vaccine, my daughter had a severe asthma attack after having the flu shot. Our doctor recommended that we NOT get the shot for her this year because of this. That said, it is a good idea for most people.

  3. Three words: Can. Of. Worms. :)

    But to answer your question: Interestingly enough, the flu shot is one of two vaccinations we have absolutely decided we will *not* be giving to our son.

    I know this is completely anecdotal evidence, but my workplace really pushes the flu shot every year, and even pays for it. Year after year, I see no difference in the rate of infection between those who accept the vaccination and those who don't. It seems to me that the best defence against influenza is a robust immune system (assisted by a good diet, targeted supplementation, regular exercise and proper sleep habits) and good hygiene.

    J and I were talking about this earlier today (baby's eight-week doctor visit raised the topic), and neither of us can recall *ever* having the flu in 38 and 31 years respectively. I was pregnant through last year's entire flu season and never worried for a moment that I would get sick (I actually got through the entire nine months without so much as a sniffle, despite the fact that pregnant women are much more susceptible to contagious illnesses!).

    Also, people can and *do* get very sick from the shot. Of course they are not contracting influenza from a deactivated virus, but there are many people who react poorly to the preservatives and adjuvants in the vaccine and become quite ill (adjuvants are additives designed to stimulate an enhanced immune response to the vaccine). Flu shots have one of the highest rates of adverse reactions.

    Here in Canada, flu shots are provided free of charge to so-called "high-risk" populations (elderly, immune compromised, health care workers etc.), but the fact that they are not provided to the population en masse tells me that the public health policymakers are not overly concerned about the impact.

    All that said, I would never criticize someone for their decision to accept the shot. We all have to do our own research and make our own informed decisions based on our perception of risk and our willingness to accept it.

  4. I couldn't agree with you more Dawn! We have always opted (even before the boys came along) to get a flu shot each year, and had no problems. Now though, not getting one just isn't even an option in our home, and probably never will be. Whatever small risk there might be from getting a shot is far outweighed by the positives of knowing that I am doing everything I can to protect our family; and Matthew in particular with his allergies and asthma that have led to him getting pneumonia 7 times already in his 10 short years.

  5. This Link provides a lot of details about this years flu shot:


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