Hit me with your Best Shot…

Hit me with your Best Shot…

As a practicing primary care physician, I have three main roles.  Number one: to listen to my patients.  Number two: to teach, dispense advice, and reassure.  Number three: to diagnose medical problems and treat appropriately.  I am asked about many different health related issues, from important questions like “what diet should I be on,” “what cholesterol medication is the best,” and “how do I prevent cancer,” to more colorful questions like “how did I get pregnant?” and “how do I know if I have parasites in my brain?”  I hear it all; good, bad, ugly, and scary!  However, no issue in recent years has generated as many questions and controversy as vaccines in general, but in particular,  the Influenza vaccine, or Flu Shot.  I’m not quite sure why or how this has come to pass, but the Flu shot has been vilified by the lay media, internet, and community at large.  Part of this is due to the unfortunate and faulty journal article published back in the 1980’s linking the MMR vaccine to autism.  That article has since been retracted, but the damage has been done.  That is a sad story for another day; maybe I will write more about it in the future.  But for now let’s focus on the Flu Shot!

I thought I would start with the top reasons I get from my patients as to why they have decided not to get a flu shot.  Maybe some of these will sound familiar to you!

  1. I don’t want to put anything in my body
  2. The flu shot causes the flu
  3. I got the flu shot before and it made me sick
  4. I don’t get the flu or get sick
  5. I heard the flu shot is dangerous
  6. I am allergic to eggs
  7. My friend/neighbor/family member/random acquaintance told me those are bad
  8. The flu shot has mercury in it

These all sound pretty legit, right?  If I heard all of those statements, you can bet I would think twice about getting the flu shot!  The trouble is, that these are all based on either faulty information or faulty logic.  When I was looking on the internet for pictures to use for this article, I of course found hundreds, but thought I would share these to illustrate a few points:

flushot teen

The first picture is fairly self-explanatory right?  It seems logical, you received a shot, a subsequent illness or issue arises, so you attribute it to the shot, even though there is literally no way that illness came from the shot (or in this case pregnancy!).

flushot meme1

The second picture is trickier, because it sounds like it might be correct!  This is just to illustrate that there are lots of things out there on the internet that sound perfectly reasonable.  Unfortunately the science here is not correct, meaning the Flu shot has nothing whatsoever to do with the evolution of the Flu virus itself (but inappropriate use of medication does!)

So, here is the truth.  The down and dirty, legit facts about the Flu shot.

  1. The Flu shot does “put something in your body” but it’s typically a purified protein particle from the Flu virus along with the vehicle, mostly normal saline. Incredibly similar to other vaccines. Many of the people who tell me that they are worried about putting something into their body are also smoking and eating fast food and other processed foods. There are many chemicals in our foods that we should be way more concerned about, but that will be a different blog post!
  2. The Flu shot does not cause the Flu. All vaccines may cause some arm soreness, perhaps a low grade fever, muscle aches and other minor symptoms. Unless you are getting a Live Attenuated Flu Shot (most typical Flu shots are Inactivated) there is no risk of actually getting the flu. Talk to your doctor or medical professional about your risks. As for people who got sick in the past “from the shot,” what we find is that typically they just got a cold, bronchitis, etc. We give the flu shot during cough and cold season. Often it’s a coincidence that illness arises at the same time.
  3. Many people who are healthy resist getting the Flu Shot because they are not worried, they never get sick. However, let’s consider the statistics. On average, about 6,000 people die in the US every year from the Flu. Compare to a common illness that everyone freaks out about, E. Coli and other foodborne illness, which cause about 23 deaths on average every year. Kinda scary! It’s true that many of these Flu related deaths are either in young children, the elderly, or people with other illnesses. But young healthy folks are not spared! We are also getting the Flu shot to protect those around us, infants, elderly, infirm, and those with compromised immune systems who can’t get the shot! So, even if you are not that concerned about your own health, think of the others around you!
  4. The Flu Shot is very safe. There are some adverse effects as I listed above. The one disease that everyone worries about is something called Guillain-Barre Syndrome or GBS, which is a neurological disorder. Back in 1976, the Swine Flu vaccine was associated with an increased risk of GBS. However, no Flu vaccine since has had this association. In fact, the actual Flu can cause GBS, and has a 4-7 per 100,000 incidence. Compare that to the Flu shot which is a 1 per 1,000,000 incidence!! There are also concerns about the Flu shot containing Thimerosol, which is a derivative of Mercury, and is used as a preservative. This compound is generally thought to be safe, however it is being largely eliminated from Flu vaccines, and many now are “preservative free.” If you have concerns about this particular issue just ask for a preservative free vaccine. There is also now an egg-free vaccine available called FluBlok for those with egg allergy.
  5. The immunity from the Flu shot lasts about 6-9 months, so the ideal time to have it done is September through November. It’s not a perfect vaccine, meaning you can get the shot and still get the Flu, but it likely prevents about 70% of disease which is pretty good!

So, the Bottom Line…..

Get your Flu Shot!  It’s safe, it’s not going to make you sick, it will likely prevent you and those around you from getting sick, and it’s just a good idea!!  Your medical professional will thank you for making an informed decision!  The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that all people > 6 mos old receive the Flu vaccine!  Just do it!  The Flu itself is miserable, trust me, and you don’t want it!!

For more information, go to the Centers for Disease Control website, CDC.gov, or talk to your doctor!

flushot meme2

This site is not designed to and does not provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual. Through this site and linkages to other sites, we provide general information for educational purposes only. The information provided in this site, or through linkages to other sites, is not a substitute for medical or professional care, and you should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation or the advice of your physician or other healthcare provider. Prettygrittygirls.com is not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis or any other information, services or product you obtain through this site.

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