As a child, you rely on your parents to help you make the best decisions related to your health. I remember the annual physical check-ups in the weeks leading up to the first day of school, as well as bi-annual dental hygiene appointments. What I don’t remember is ever receiving the flu vaccine. That is because before October 2007, I had never had one. I was generally a very healthy kid. I might have gone to my pediatrician just one time between annual exams for a sore throat or cough. Even in adulthood, as I began taking charge of my own health, I opted out of the flu shot offered by my place of employment. I was still of the opinion that I was in fairly good health and didn’t need the extra protection; after all, I had never had the flu growing up, and friends and family, as well as those ready and willing to offer advice, warned me that I would get sick if I opted to get the vaccine.
Then everything changed in February 2007. At the time, I was the mother of two boys, ages 3 and 4 months old. I went to bed feeling “off” and in the middle of the night, I ended up passing out in my bathroom. I came too, went back to bed, and when I woke in the morning, I was anxious to get into the doctor and have my head examined. What I wasn’t expecting was to have the doctor swab my nose and tell me that my head was fine but that I had both influenza A and B. It was a long week of recovery—especially because I had to rebound without the aid of anti-viral medications (I was nursing my youngest). That experience forever changed my perception and attitude toward the flu vaccine.
That fall, each and every member of my household got the flu vaccine. I even opted to get one while I was pregnant with my third child. My children have close contact with my parents, so after more than 60+ years of opting out of the vaccine, my parents, too, have received the flu vaccine each year for the past four years.
There continues to be stories of the healthy young woman contracting a debilitating condition as a side effect of the vaccine, or a young man dying from the vaccine. Although these events are terrible, unfortunately a ramification related to the publicity of these isolated cases is that people are opting out of the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 5 to 20 percent of the American population contracts the flu and more than 200,000+ people are hospitalized with flu-related complications each year.
Roughly 49,000 people died from the flu between 1976 and 2006. In 2012, influenza seemed to be fairly widespread. My local public health agency recently reported some 108 cases of the flu in the county for the time period of October 2012 to May 2013, compared to less than 10 cases through the first week of January 2014. The agency is quick to follow up that statistic with the recommendation that those who have not yet received the vaccine choose to do so.
With the flu season not expected to wrap up until sometime in May, a little prick today may spare you the expense of a miserable week sometime within the next four months.