Flu Shots

Flu season is rapidly upon us. I woke up this morning with a slight case of the sniffles that as the day has gone on has proved to be (hopefully) somewhat of a false alarm. I am hoping to get through the week unaffected as next Saturday I hope to run* in my first half-marathon. I have already paid the registration fee as well as completed my last long run — a 10.5 mile trek a week ago. The race is 13.1 miles. After 10.5, I knew I could make 13.1 so I stopped to conserve my body and prevent overtraining, which can and has for me in the past led to a lowered immune system and consequently the flu, which wiped me out from participating last year, although I never went so far as to preregister as I have this year.

With flu season comes flu shots. Everyone Hospitals, medical offices, ambulance services, senior centers, and pharmacies are all giving them out. It is hard to avoid mention of them. There is a sign on our ambulance service’s bulletin board about where and when to go to get your flu shot.

I get my flu shot every year. I will get the swine flu shot too. I believe in science. I believe in benefit versus risk analysis. Sure I might die from the shot in a rare occurrence, but I am much more likely to avoid the flu or get it much less severely than I otherwise would have had I not gotten the shot. I hate getting the flu. I haven’t died from it, but sometimes I feel like I will never be well again, and I hate that. Not for me.

I know quite a number of health care workers who are refusing to get flu shots and/or swine flu shots. I recall seeing some controversy on TV where the health care workers were rallying and holding up signs and an off-camera hospital spokesman was saying they didn’t have to get flu shots as required by the hospital, but the hospital also didn’t have to keep them employed. Something to that effect.

One side is advancing the argument that health care workers need to get the shot so they won’t get sick from sick patients and then pass it along to other vulnerable patients who will get sicker. Makes sense to me.

The other side is advancing the we have a right to what goes in our bodies argument, which I generally believe in as a proponent of freedom and the American way.

When these two clash, it does raise interesting issues. Let me just answer it this way. If I have a choice of going to two hospitals — one hospital where all the staff have gotten their shots and one where none of them have, I’ll go to the hospital where they have all gotten their shots.

The dear mother of my darling twenty-one-month-old also works in health care and she never gets the flu shot. She won’t let them come near here with that needle even though she herself gives the same shot to others countless times. We don’t even argue about it anymore. I’m not going to change her mind, she isn’t going to change mine.

I had a patient this morning with some mild difficulty breathing on exertion. I asked him when it started. “Right after I got my flu shot on Monday,” he said. Similar words to what a patient told me yesterday, and similar words to what I have seen written on quite a number of run forms I have read in my job as a clinical coordinator. “Patient states it all started when they got their flu shot….”

Cause and effect. You get a shot, you get sick. It didn’t matter that this guy had a multiple pneumonia history, his blood sugar was 500 and he weighed 300 pounds and had four by-passes and for the last two years he has slept upright every night in a chair and his apartment smelled of cat urine. He’d be perfectly healthy if not for that flu shot. He even handed me the literature they gave him about the shot and all its possible side effects. I set it back on the table and asked again for his med list.

You get a shot, you get sick. Cause and effect. One of the patients on the run forms I read blamed his syncope on the flu shot. I saw his diagnosis — AAA — aortic abdominal aneurysm. If they are linked we are in more trouble than we thought.

You get a shot, bad things may happen. It is the way people think. But the shots don’t guarantee you won’t have to call 911 in the ensuing week. If they came with that guarantee, we’d go door to door inoculating everyone. Then we could close up shop for a week and all of us go to the upcoming EMS Expo in Atlanta. No need to cover the town.

Anyway, I can get my shot as early as this Thursday. But I think I am going to wait until next week. I don’t want to risk getting sick and missing my race.

Vaccine is on its way, but public still wary


*I am actually planning a 4-1 run/walk. I’ll run four minutes, walk one minute and then start running again, repeating until I cross the finish line. I have run as much as 7.5 miles without walking but by the end I am not running too fast. Running experts say at my age I will likely have a faster finishing time with the walk breaks. My goal is to complete the race not necessarily compete.


  • Rain23 says:

    You make convincing arguments about getting a flu shot. I've had real painful local reactions to them in the past, but as a health care worker and having immunocompromised relatives, I will probably up for the swine flu shot just because this one is hitting atypically and I couldn't live with myself if I passed it on and someone died. Such is the power of rationalization. Perhaps I'll have a flu jab with a side of Epi-Pen just in case 🙂

    Last year after much prep I did the arthritis 5K walk, coming in nearly last. Just finishing was the most wonderful feeling. Some of our most enthusiastic supporters were a group of runners who entered to contribute to the charity. Two of them actually came back around after finishing to keep me company. As they said, it's all about competing with and challening yourself. I am full of admiration that you are going out for this, best of luck.

    Thanks for another great post.

  • ben says:

    Flu vaccine CAN NOT give you flu.

    Flu vaccine uses dead flu cells which your body produces antibodies against, so if you get any previous years flu you will have some built up resistance to. If the flu virus you are exposed to has already mutated then you can get it as normal.
    In regard to the ANECDOTAL evidence that people state they get sick straight after getting the shot, it is NOT from the shot. As you mentioned people will blame any following feeling unwell on the recently administered flu shot. I guess theoretically it is possible that as the body is busy producing antibodies to the DEAD flu shot that it has less capability to fight another attack on the immune system at the same time…
    BUT i thought we were getting away from letting anecdotal evidence influence medical practise… so please get the flu shot.
    Think about everything else you do is this job…. IN THE PATIENTS BEST INTEREST!

  • brendan says:

    I wouldn't say I "got the flu from the flu shot," but I did feel like I got run over by a truck the next day.

    A 3-4 hour nap and some liquids, and I felt fine for the rest of the day. Fortunately no calls during that time, since I was at work.

    I'm not as sure about the H1H1 vac. It just feels… too rushed. Not studied enough. Not trialed.

    I read that England had a swine flu outbreak back a couple decades ago, and they lost more people to the vaccine than the flu. May or may not be 100% accurate, but you can't tell me that this vaccine has been studied to the point that it's 100% ready for widespread human distribution.

  • AlisonH says:

    I was a brand-new lupus patient 19 years ago (with four small kids) when I caught the flu, nearly died, and spent four months with severe double pneumonia. My doctor asked me, "Didn't you get a flu shot?"

    I shot back, "Did you tell me to get a flu shot?" It had just never occurred to me. I thought those were just for old folks.

    I still have asthma because of that bout. And when I was hospitalized recently, if someone had taken care of me who didn't know they were coming down with the flu, I would have died. Plain and simple. Thank you thank you thank you for getting your flu shots! (And yes, I've gotten mine first possible day ever since that long-ago bout.)

  • Chris Norton says:

    Firstly, good luck with the martathon.

    I believe in the flu vaccine too as my mum is diabetic and as she is at risk she needs to have the shot to protect her.

    I am all for it.

  • TOTWTYTR says:

    Last year, for the first time ever, I had a reaction after I received a flu shot. Flu like symptoms, 3-4 days after the shot. I was sick as a dog for two days. I'm assuming that it was a reaction, but that's just an assumption.

    Which won't stop me from getting one (well two actually) this year. The odds are all with getting the shot.

    Brendan, that was in the US about 1976. Big panic over the Swine Flu, but more people died from the vaccine than the disease.

    Of course it doesn't help that the public health dweebs are on their third or fourth "End of the World as We know it" scenario in the past few years. Avian Flu, Swine Flu, SARS, were all going to kill millions, if not billions.

    "Wolf, Wolf" wears thin after a while and breeds dangerous cynicism.

  • Sewmouse says:

    Got my Flu shot on Tuesday.

    One of the symptoms (possible) that the sheet of paper they gave me listed was "malaise".

    I believe I have had malaise all week. Either that or it's just terminal laziness…

  • Matt M says:

    There will not be enough H1N1 shots to go around. It helps that some people will refuse them, leaving more for the rest of us. Those who refuse the shots may get sick. Their children may also get sick. I don't really wish that on them, I hope that there are no serious secondary infections, and I hope that they don't miss too much work or school, but that is their choice. If some of them learn from a bad case of flu, and get the shots next year, this will be good. I don't hold out much hope, because some people are just unteachably ignorant.

  • Anonymous says:

    Not only can you get sick, I do every time. 14 days after getting the flu shot I will develope flu "like" symptoms. Seven years straight this happened to me while I was in the military. I finally refused to have another shot and I was threatened with a dishonorable discharge. I eventually made a deal with CO, that if he would sign a waiver to not get the flu shot and I got the flu I would never complain about it again. I have never had a flu shot since and do not plan to. I hear/read that everyone shoud get the shot. I believe that everyone reacts differently to all medicines and medical procedures. For example I have allergies and when I take a 12 hour antihistamine It work for 3 days for me. Makes it cheap for me but my sensitivity to medications makes me nervous about what I put into my body. I also have been told that caffeine helps to reduce migraines – it is my trigger!!

    Not everyone is the same but yet our doctors use the assembly line approach in medicine.

    D. Holt