I started this post with data and begging that any reader considering not getting the flu shot run out and get it. Instead I've moved that information to the bottom of the post to make sure that you get to the fun part first. I'll ask that you read the last few paragraphs, but if you don't I'll understand. Especially if you've gotten your flu shot or at least plan to.
If you do want some facts there's a ton out there and here, let me help you find it. (click that one - it's fun). What I would like to know is what is behind the extreme aversion to the shot. I understand that having a needle stuck in your arm isn't fun and you aren't quite sure what's in it, which can be unnerving. But if you think that the government or big pharma is going to poison you a) you're possibly insane, b) you have delusions of grand-importance and c) you need to ask yourself WHY. Unless you're a spy and Vladimir Putin is after you the odds are pretty good that both the government and the drug companies want you very much alive. I mean, you're not going to pay taxes or buy medication if you're dead, right? Check your paranoia at the door, thankyouverymuch. There's no sensible reason, whatsoever, for anyone to want you dead. Except maybe your ex. Check into that.
And if you're not sure what's in the vaccine or how it works as your doctor. What? You don't have a doctor? Oh, yeah, I forgot - we haven't passed health care reform yet, but that's a rant for another time. No doctor? Check out the CDC's, the NIH's, any major medical school's web site, etc. Or ask me - I'll be happy to help. Seriously, I know a lot about this stuff. If you're worried about catching the flu from the vaccine rest assured: you can't because it isn't possible. Unfortunately some of the side-effects of the vaccine seem to be a minor strain of the flu: muscle aches, low-grade fever, congestion. But side-effects are generally far milder, they're not contagious and, oh yeah, they won't KILL you.
What makes me the most angry is people I've thought were perfectly reasonable jumping on the anti-vaccine bandwagon: celebrities, actors, talk-show hosts who otherwise seem to have their wits about them. Yet they start talking about vaccines and their conspiracy loon sides come out. Several celebs I (guiltily) follow on Twitter asked their collective followings whether they should get the flu vaccine and in each case they've said that more people told them not to than told them to. And here I thought twits were some of the brighter electrons on-line - WRONG. Even worse, last week I heard Bill Maher, with whom I often agree, rant about how vaccines have done nothing useful but perpetuate the vaccine industry. Really? Do you have Polio? Small pox? Can you find a vaccinated child under 18 who has had the chicken pox? Know anyone with Measles? Mumps? Rubella? Diptheria? I could go on. Vaccines are probably second only to antibiotics as the biggest medical miracle of the 20th century. And these fools are wondering whether to get the shot? Really??
Fine, don't get it, Mr Famousguy. Play Russian Roulette with your own life. But for safety's sake don't encourage your impressionable listeners/watchers/readers to do the same. The odds are good that you have adequate health care being rich and/or famous. Your sheep aren't all so lucky. Think of it this way: if they die or get sick because you told them to avoid the shot you lose ratings, ad sales, readers, etc. How 'bout them apples?
Ultimately I think this comes down to education and rabid gullibility. But that, too, is another blog post. Watch for it here soon.
Rabid anti-vaxxers: Absurdly dangerous and really stupid.
-------------- Bonus material ---------------
With the onset of flu season soon there has been a lot of talk in the news about both the routine, seasonal flu and of course H1N1 swine flu, and whether or not to get vaccinated. There have been stories about people dying from the flu and others about people being hurt by the vaccine. What should you do? Well, I'm not a doctor (nor have I ever played one on TV) so I suggest you check reputable sources like doctors and medical researchers and, you know, scientists. Your new age guru might know the best Yanni tracks and incense but he doesn't know squat about microbiology and the only thing his herbs will protect is the fatness of his wallet. But since you're reading here anyway how about some facts before we get to the good stuff: sarcasm, opinion and some funnies. I don't normally get so serious, but this is, literally, a life-and-death issue.
30,000 people die every year from the seasonal flu, most of whom have weakened immune systems due to other illness or age. Children over 2 are typically spared, though they do go through a week or two of hell. H1N1, on the other hand, impacts 10-45 year-olds (Times of India) much more than the seasonal flu. In fact, as of the middle of October more children in the United States under 12 have died from H1N1 than die from conventional flu in an average year. And flu season hasn't really started yet.
Many news outlets in the DC area (for example) reported a story about a Washington Redskins cheerleader, Desuree Jennings, who came down with what some doctors think may be distonia and which has been reported to be a rare reaction to the flu vaccine. Did you catch all of the qualifiers there? If not let me add another: medical experts are almost unanimous in that she does NOT have distonia and even if she does it is NOT linked to the flu shot.
Just for a second let's take the media reports as truth and assume (against all medical evidence) that it was a reaction to the flu shot and the 1:1,000,000 odds that have been pulled out of thin air are accurate. While the story is tragic, what's even more tragic is that 36,000 Americans die every year from the seasonal flu. So let's say every one of the 310,000,000 Americans gets the shot and one in a million gets Distonia. That's 310 people with a nasty but not fatal disease, but 36,000 people still alive who would otherwise be dead. Over 100 times more people are saved from dying than are harmed. Those are good odds any way you look at it. Never mind all of the discomfort, pain, lost work, lost productivity, lost money, cold remedies, blankets, tissues, etc that you go through when you have the flu.
What's even better is that real medical experts are highly skeptical that Ms Jenning's illness is related to the flu shot especially since there are no other documented cases of people getting Distonia that way. 0. None. So what I've presented is the worst-possible case scenario which is almost certainly wildly divorced from reality. Do you feel a bit better about it now?
As a counter one news report I present another from the New York Times. A 27-year-old Florida woman came down with H1N1 while pregnant and, tragically, lost her baby because of it and had to spend four months in the hospital, five weeks of which were in a coma. It's true that the H1N1 vaccine wasn't out in time to save her baby, but those of you who are pregnant and are considering avoiding the vaccine read the linked story now. Pregnant women are at the top of the list for who gets the H1N1 vaccine. Please tell me you have an OB. Good. Now call to find out when the shot is coming in, then get it. You don't have to thank me. Just live.