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My Birthday Present to Myself: Protection from Influenza

It’s that time of year here again.  Cold, snow, slush, wet socks, crowded malls, bad drivers, etc, etc.  I’m not talking about the holiday season.  No, this is flu season.

Among other things (my birthday, email me for an address to send gifts to), November 26th was flu shot day at work.  Being a well-informed individual, I had scheduled mine as soon as they released the sign-ups.  As I stood in line waiting for the nurse to bring me the consent form that I have to sign, I noticed that there weren’t that many people in line with me.  Maybe a dozen or so, our Ottawa office employs over 500 individuals.  When the nurse brought me the consent form I had to sign, which asked me, among other things, if I was allergic to formaldehyde.  I asked her if this was it.  Are these the only people that signed up to get the shot?  She said no, there was another group scheduled an hour later and another after lunch.  About 10% of the employees signed up for it.  I was kind of disheartened.  That seemed strange, maybe I can take into account people who got the shot at their doctor’s office, or at one of the many free flu shot clinics at pharmacies all around.

So I went back to work kind of perplexed.  At lunch, I asked my co-workers how many of them got their shot.  None of them did.  I asked if they knew that our company offered them today.  All of them did.  So I asked what their reasons are for not getting it.  And here’s where I got the same old tired excuses that I’ve heard WAY too many times before.

1. You can get the flu from the flu shot
2. I get the shot and I still get sick
3. I’m allergic to eggs (and yes, this person was eating a sandwich with lots of mayonnaise on it)
4. I never get the flu shot and I never get the flu

So I explained to them how you can’t get the flu from the shot, it’s a dead virus.  It’s like saying you can get attacked by a dead dog. I explained how the shot is good against only a few of the predicted strains but it still gives you some immunity to flu in general. I didn’t touch the allergy one except to throw in a “how’s your sandwich? Looks good.”  And I explained how the flu shot doesn’t just protect you, it protects those around you.  Most importantly, those who are more at-risk of having flu-related complications.

I didn’t convince one of them.  Oh well, I tried.  I performed my skeptical duty and informed people, planted the nugget as Bob would say.

In the meantime, I suggest you all re-listen to the interview with Mark Crislip from SGU episode 117.  Not only is it damned entertaining and funny, but it gets deeper into the subject of the flu and the flu shot.

And for even more flu shot info from Dr Crislip, listen to Quackcast episode 20.  There Mark, now where’s my $5?

17 comments to My Birthday Present to Myself: Protection from Influenza

  • IPVlazy

    Happy birthday Mike, I wish you another year of good fortune as the Chinese people would say.. I think that a stereotype but anyways, about this flu shot yeah you missed one other explanation as to why not: “needles hurt like a bitch!” I don’t like getting needles though I would love to protect myself from the flu and those around me, I just can’t build up the courage do go to that doctors office and ask them to stick a long sharp pin-like object into my arm, just like I can’t build up the courage to ask that cute girl at my work out. So what kind of words of encouragement can you give a poor wimpy soul like myself?

  • I’m with lazy. Not only do needles turn one’s arm into a dead piece of meat for several days, they’re frickin’ scary. I turn into a blubbering mess, and shake like a washing machine with an unbalanced load, which of course makes it worse.
    My goal is to give blood someday, so I guess if they offer the shot on campus I should take it, but not today… Today is /my/ birthday. ^_^

  • Adrian

    Just worth mentioning something that very few people remember these days: over the course of 4-6 months in 1918-9, Influenza killed more people worldwide than died in decades of wars. Estimates range from 50-100 million people dead in under a year from the Spanish Flu compared to “only” 20 million dead in all of WW I (including civilians). In some parts Alaska and other remote areas entire villages were wiped out. It was so virulent that people could die within one day of displaying symptoms, formerly healthy men coughed so hard they broke their own ribs. Ships carrying soldiers to Britain would leave healthy and arrive as a graveyard.

    Perhaps because of the horror of this event it was virtually wiped from public consciousness and except for passing mentions around avian flu, few people know what happened.

    The flu which goes around today is much milder but it isn’t just a cold and some people still get very sick. It seems a common and bitter irony that the people who have so many reasons to avoid vaccinations are the people who seem to know virtually nothing about what these infections can actually do.

  • Drum Billet

    Meh, i’d rather risk the flu than have a needle stuck in my arm.

    In fact, I can’t remember ever having a flu shot.

    I don’t think many people apart from the old and infirm get flu shots in England.

  • SkepticalSally

    “needles hurt like a bitch!” Just be grateful you’re never going to have a baby. Now roll your sleeve up.

    “I don’t think many people apart from the old and infirm get flu shots in England.” – Some pharmacies offer them at a price (Tescos: £10) but the local Boots sold out quickly. They’re free on the NHS for people “at risk”; generally the old and infirm or people with diseases such as asthma. My Dad was a GP in the days when GPs did their own night visits and he gave the flu shot to anyone he saw in surgery and who he could persuade to roll up their sleeves. He said that if they didn’t have it they were “at risk” – of calling him out at 3.30 on a cold morning.

  • HCN

    For your needle wimps there is an inhaled version of the flu vaccine, no needles.

    Also, the flu is not just a few days with a fever and sniffles: it is a knock you flat on your back with fever and very painful muscle aches for up to two weeks.

    Once upon a time when I was a kid I came close to not waking up from influenza. Get the flu shot, it hurts much less than the needle they stick in my arm when I donate blood (which I may do tomorrow).

    More from Dr. Crislip:

  • IPVlazy

    SkepticalSally – ““needles hurt like a bitch!” Just be grateful you’re never going to have a baby. Now roll your sleeve up.” you are right about the baby thing haha I wouldn’t want more of me on this earth anyways, that would just be torcher for everyone including the kid especially, but I ain’t rolling up my sleeve! HCN has it right, inhalers are the way to go, much much less painful.

  • Awww..I’m like everyone else here, apparently. I have this needle phobia, you see. Whenever someone comes at me with a needle, well, I panic. Hehe. Full on hysterics. I can’t control it, it’s completely irrational. I know needles don’t hurt that badly.

    Nevertheless, I just don’t want to put up with all that stress and panic unless I really, really have to. I even got the flu last year (first time), and it was really terrible, but still…the shot is somehow worse. Hehe. If only all the lazy people would get their flu shots and protect me from harm!

  • kel

    Like everyone else, I hate needles, but I also have asthma, so I make sure I get mine every year. I’ll take every once of (evidence supported) prevention I can get, considering that if I do happen to get the flu, I’m almost guaranteed to end up in hospital. And my asthma isn’t even that bad day-to-day.

  • I am 357 in dog years and cannot remember what I may or may not have said to warrent sending you 5 dollars. However, I do not want to be known as a welsher.

  • HCN

    For you needle haters: Do you also skip out on your tetanus boosters?

    Anyway, when I get blood draws and vaccines I put on my mp3 player and look away. I do not look at the needle and the nurse at the doctor’s office knows this, and he is actually quite good at both drawing blood and giving vaccines with minimal pain. It is often over before I realize it has happened.

  • KristinMH

    Happy Birthday, Mike! Good for you for getting your flu shot…I haven’t gotten mine yet. I need to go. And good for you for spreading scientific facts about the flu shot to your colleagues. I would do the same…except I’m self-employed.

  • John Powell

    I hate needles too, but the needle the nurse used for my flu shot was so small I barely noticed it. Not even a drop of blood.


  • RickK

    Needles are nothing. Got a flu shot at lunchtime thanks to my company. Just pick the cutest nurse giving the shot, and then you HAVE to be tough when vaced with a needle.

    Any time the discussion of vaccines comes up, I like to post the link to Mark Crisp’s excellent list of diseases, their mortality rates, and their related vaccines.

  • Well I never get the shot and I never get the flu, I reckon thats a good reason actually. I think your argument that this increases the risk to others to be weak. I’m fully in favour of childhood immunizations but you can’t seriously expect that everybody should get the flu shot every year. As you have pointed out, it doesn’t protect against all strains anyway.

  • The Blind Watchmaker

    “Well I never get the shot and I never get the flu, I reckon that’s a good reason actually”

    This is backwards logic. This is like a soldier saying “I’ve never been shot in battle, so I don’t need to duck when there is gunfire”. Do you wear seat belts? You get the analogy.

    “it doesn’t protect against all strains anyway.”

    The flu shot is designed to cover the strains that are likely to kill us for that particular season. Last year, there were three strains and the designers of the flu shot planned on there being 2. This is a 66% match. Refusing to get the flu shot is a 0% match.

    Flu related deaths reach up to 30,000 in the U.S. each year. Get the shot (preferably in early October).

  • My understanding was the shot is recommended for the more at-risk sections of the community, it certainly used to be. I’m 40 years old and have never had flu so I suspect i’m more resistant than the average person to the flu virus, so the risk is extremely low. I don’t intend to get a Gardasil vaccination for cervical cancer either.
    I do wear a seatbelt though.

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