Every fall Coach Stacy and I spar in the same debate – to vaccinate, or not to vaccinate. I’m a huge fan of the preventive powers of the flu shot, having spent the majority of my professional life working in classrooms and public libraries. Coach Stacy? Not a fan – primarily because of her life-long needle phobia. For Coach Stacy, the very thought of getting the flu shot is enough to make her swoon and her avoidance maneuvers where needles are concerned are the stuff of legend. For example, one day as a youngster, upon realizing her mother had tricked her into going to the doctor’s office for a booster shot, Coach made a dash to the parking lot and locked herself in the family car. Subsequently, it took one pediatrician, three nurses, six moms from the waiting room and the San Antonio Fire Department a full hour to coax her out of the car.
Fast forward a few years and Coach is still easily fooled. When I first started working for her I thought I’d deceive her into going for a flu shot – at the mall, of all places. Since she believed we were shopping for tennis shoes, it wasn’t terribly difficult luring her into Macy’s. However, her eagerness over the prospect of shopping tennies quickly turned to suspicion when we made a beeline past the shoe department and then to horror when we arrived at the Visiting Nurses Association kiosk in the house wares department. Momentarily distracted while filling out my paperwork, I somehow managed to let Coach escape, but found her hiding, trembling and pale, in active wear ten minutes later.
“I. Don’t. Do. Shots,” she hissed. To this day, I still haven’t convinced Coach Stacy with regard to the relative merits of flu shots. But naturally, I enjoy “needling” her every year when I get mine. Here’s a snippet of our recent conversation on the topic:
Debby: Coach, I think you should do it this year.
Coach Stacy: What’s that?
Debby: Get the flu shot.
Coach Stacy: Here we go again.
Debby: Seriously. With all the traveling you do, it only makes sense, given the nasty germs you’re exposed to every time you fly.
Coach Stacy: You know I hate needles.
Debby: Really. It could save your life. Did you know that every year about 200,000 people are hospitalized for flu symptoms – and about 20,000 of them actually die from complications associated with the flu?
Coach Stacy: I’d rather suffer the symptoms than get a shot.
Debby: The aching? The chills? The fever? All the missed work?
Coach Stacy: Well, even if I get the shot, it’s no guarantee that I won’t get the flu. You know, the vaccine contains only the flu strains that scientists predict will be circulating in the upcoming season?
Debby: Yes, I suppose developing the vaccine each year is a bit like shooting at a moving target. But according to the CDC, the shot cuts your chances of coming down with the flu by around 70%.
Coach Stacy: I’m still not convinced. Plus, last year one of my clients got the shot and two days later – wham! She was sick in bed with the flu.
Debby: Nope – a total coincidence. You can’t catch the flu from the flu shot. She would have had to have been exposed to the germs before the shot. The virus can actually incubate for a week, so it only seemed like the shot caused her to have the flu. And for some people, the side effects of the shot resemble flu symptoms – low-grade fever, achiness – especially in the arm the shot is administered.
Coach Stacy: Still……I don’t do needles.
Debby: Then get the nasal mist vaccine.
Coach Stacy: Seriously? You realize, of course, that the nasal vaccine contains weakened live viruses. Do you really think I’d willingly sniff a live flu virus? Not only that, but I read somewhere that the vaccine contains the preservative thimerosal, which is made from mercury. And the shot has also been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome?
Debby: Okay, yes, the shot does contain thimerosal, but only trace amounts. Talk to your doctor about that. Flu vaccines without the preservative are available out there, but they’re a little harder to find. And yes, there’s like a one in a million chance that you could develop Guillain-Barré after having the flu shot.
Coach Stacy: Still, I’d rather take my chances of getting the flu than get stuck with a needle or snort a live virus. Besides there are other ways to prevent the flu, like being diligent about hand washing, healthy eating, being physically active and avoiding people who are coughing and sneezing.
Well, I got my flu shot last week. Coach, of course, passed. We’ll likely repeat the debate again next year…..and the year after that. Bottom line is that the vaccine is easy to come by this time of year and even Coach will tell you that it’s highly recommended for some people who are at high risk:
- People who are 50 years of age or older
- Those who have weakened immune systems or chronic conditions such as asthma or heart disease
- Anyone who works with young children or with high risk populations
You shouldn’t get the shot if:
- You’re allergic to chickens or eggs (the shots are cultivated inside chicken eggs)
- You have a fever or illness
- You’ve had a bad reaction to a flu shot previously
- You’re pregnant or trying to conceive
If you’re not sure what to do, talk to your primary care physician. Meanwhile, check out this Flu IQ, developed by the Centers for Disease Control. Later this month Coach Stacy will be back with tips for staying healthy during the upcoming cold and flu season.
Weigh in below on your plans for getting a flu shot this year: