Thursday, October 5, 2017

Why You Should Get a Flu Shot


I know that vaccination is a touchy subject, and I was hesitant to write this post, but it's something that I think is too important to ignore. I feel incredibly strongly about vaccinations, from both a professional/public health perspective, and from a personal perspective.

Getting the flu shot will not give you (or your child) the flu, or autism. This isn't just my opinion - this is proven fact, backed up by many, many peer-reviewed research studies. That's not to say that nothing bad ever happens from a vaccine; some people have reactions to vaccines just like people have reactions to penicillin or latex or any other medication. But the chances of having a reaction to a vaccine are so small, and so much smaller than the risk of harm that can come from not being vaccinated.

I think the most troubling aspect of the anti-vaccination craze is that it really highlights how selfish and fearful we've become as a society. Vaccines are considered one of the greatest public health achievements because of the lives that they have saved. Vaccines work so well because they don't only protect the person who gets the vaccine, they also protect the people who the vaccinated interact with. This is something called herd immunity - if it a certain percentage of the population is vaccinated (this percentage needed varies by disease), then the vaccinated people stop the spread of disease and protect even those who aren't vaccinated. Some people legitimately cannot be vaccinated - they may be too young, or they may have an allergy to an ingredient in the vaccination. These are the people who rely on herd immunity to be protected.

Some of you might wonder why this matters so much - it's the flu! You get a fever, you ache for a few days, maybe you throw up, but after a few days, it's all over and you feel fine. Sure... that's how the flu affects someone who doesn't have a chronic illness. But for someone who already has other medical issues, the flu can be life-threatening.

I've always gotten my flu shot, but flu shots aren't perfect - they protect you against the three strains of the flu that are predicted to be the most prevalent that year. Sometimes, the predicted strains don't match up with the actual strains seen, and you can get sick even if you got your yearly shot. That's what happened to me my freshman year of high school. But for me, getting the flu wasn't just a few days at home on the couch. I couldn't keep anything down, and I got so dehydrated that my body went into shock and I had to be taken to the ER by ambulance. I had to be intubated to help my lungs get a full breath, and there are a few days spent in the ICU that I have absolutely no memory of. For me, and for other people with chronic illnesses or people with weakened immune systems, the flu is something very serious, and even potentially fatal.

This was a terrifying experience, and something that I never want to go through again. I'll do whatever I can to avoid this - but this relies on other people also doing whatever they can to avoid the flu, too. So please, take a few extra minutes out of your day to get the flu shot, and help keep yourself, and everyone around you, healthy.

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