In Praise of Flu Shots
As you have probably seen in the news, the flu season is particularly harsh this year. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Even here in Fredericksburg, hospitals are overwhelmed with patients.
Our family is not affected (knock wood) because we all got our flu shots this year. We get them every year whether there is a harsh flu season or not. Because the flu has struck really early in Washington in years past (once in October), once I see flu shot signs go up in August or September, I rush to get everyone in ASAP because I know it takes a few weeks for the immunity to take effect. Usually, we have to wait a few weeks to get pediatric flu shots for the youngest members of our family. This year, my son got his first flu shots (2 of them) at the pediatrician.
In 2004, there was a national flu vaccine shortage and people were asked not to get the vaccine unless they were in a vulnerable group. My husband and I did not get vaccinated and we got hit HARD by the flu that year. I am not sure if I have ever had a true flu virus before that year. Once you have experienced true flu it is unmistakable. Your body is so exhausted, it hurts to move. You have really high fever and you feel delirious and spacey. I could not get out of bed for 24 hours when I had that flu. I have the “gift” of being able to sleep even when I feel terrible so I just slept it off. My husband can’t sleep when he feels terrible so he was up trying to use the computer or read. I heard him walking in the hallway and he suddenly collapsed! Even though I was barely functioning, a jolt of adrenaline ran through me and I ran to him.
“Are you all right?” I asked, lightly slapping his cheeks to wake him up.
His eyes opened, “I’m fine! What are you doing?” he inquired puzzlingly, apparently unaware he was lying down in the hallway.
We recovered from the worst effects after a few days and were fine but the amount of energy it took to get through those first hard days was immense! We were young and healthy and it was tough so I can’t imagine how tough it would be if you were weaker to begin with. As a parent, I cannot afford to be that ill and still manage to take care of my children.
It is somewhat sad to me to think that a lot of the flu is preventable and that so few people take advantage of the vaccine. Sure, now that there is a crisis in Massachusetts, everyone wants to get a shot and there are now shortages.
Imagine if you are in Boston right now and you just happen to have a heart attack or some other health emergency. Good luck getting in at the local hospital! Those hospitals have no capacity right now to handle any other emergencies. And even if you do get in, wouldn’t you be worried about your recovery being compounded by exposure to the flu?
Yes, the vaccine isn’t perfect. It isn’t always a perfect match for the flu virus circulating (but this year it is). There are always some people who can’t get vaccinated due to medical conditions or lack of money. But if most of us who could get vaccinated did, we might be able to reduce the severity of these flu outbreaks and protect the most vulnerable members of society.
If you happen to have a fear of needles, you really need to know that many places offering flu vaccine promise really tiny needles that you can hardly feel. This year, the nurse administering the vaccine to me and my girls had some sort of palsy where she was shaking. “Oh, this is going to hurt!” I thought but was determined to go through with it. The nurse shook as she put the needle in and even as she injected the vaccine and would you believe it didn’t hurt at all? Truly. Those needles are really tiny. And, if you really hate needles, some places have the “intranasal” vaccine where they just put a few drops of liquid up your nose.
So next year, when you first see that sign for flu vaccine, pull the car over and get vaccinated!
If you are affected by the flu this year, you have my sympathies. You may find my previous post helpful: