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Cough. Gasp. Ick. No, I’m still not getting a flu shot

Categories: Parenting, The Juggle


I knew I was in trouble the instant my 2-year-old rubbed his face and then laid his damp little hand on my cheek. No symptoms yet, but the sign was clear: Cold and flu season has begun.

A few days later, he was streaming from the nose and I was wishing I’d bought stock in Purell. A few days after that, he was fine but I’d been felled by a fever so high even I had to call in to work (and, if you’ve been reading here for a while, you know I rarely ever call in sick).

Our company’s medical department offers the flu shot, but I’m not going to get it. And when I take my youngest two kids in for their annual checkups next week, they’re not going to get it either. Call me a bad parent, if you like — plenty of others already have — but I believe that a good, soapy hand-washing does more to prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses than the flu vaccine.

Aside from the whole Thimerosal issue (the flu vaccine is one of the few that still uses the mercury-laced preservative), the real reason I’m avoiding the flu vaccine is that it doesn’t work for about 85 percent of people who exhibit flu-like symptoms.

Why not? Two reasons. The formulation of the vaccine changes every year, kind of a luck-of-the-draw attempt to come up with a vaccine that will be effective against the widest range of flu strains out there. But, according to The Center for Medical Consumers: Researchers divide influenza into two types, influenza A or B, and “all other forms of influenza.” Both kinds produce exactly the same symptoms — headache, fever, muscle aches, cough, and runny nose. And the vaccine only works on some versions of influenza A or B, and not on the “all other forms.”

Even if I did happen to fall among the less-than-15-percent of people who have a form of the flu that the vaccine can prevent, it takes as long as two weeks for your body to start producing antibodies once you’ve gotten the shot. Which means that you can end up with a sore arm AND a raging case of the flu. Which, coincidentally, is exactly what happened to me the first and only time I got a flu shot, years and years ago.

Apparently, that’s not uncommon. An article on Web MD points out that last season’s flu shot was one of the least effective in the past decade, preventing or minimizing the flu for only 44 percent of people who received the vaccine. That’s 44 percent of the 15 percent for whom it’s effective, mind you.

Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll take my chances with my kids and their daycare bugs. What I have right now may be the flu — in which case, I’ve got some kick-ass antibodies in development. And if it’s not, well, I’ll just brace myself for the season ahead.

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7 comments so far...

  • I’m with you, Lylah. Everyone I know who gets the flu vaccine ends up getting the flu anyway. I’m going nowhere near it.

    Kristin D  |  November 6th, 2008 at 1:52 am

  • No flu shots in our house either. The research has not convinced me that the benefits outweigh the risks. Some other vaccinations, yes. This one, nope.

    Robyn  |  November 6th, 2008 at 12:54 pm

  • I have never had it, nor will my children.

    Injecting yourself with the germs and not having it actually work makes no sense to me. We just wash our hands a lot, and if we get sick we sleep it off (unless it’s something that requires antibiotics).

    I’m with you as well.

    Angella  |  November 6th, 2008 at 5:19 pm

  • It doesn’t bother me that they are guessing which strains of the flu go into the shot. I figure that by getting the shot each year I am building up resistance to a wider and wider range of strains — a shot taken this year may save me a couple of years down the road. And if it’s not an exact match, it may still be helpful if a related strain comes along.

    I heard a report that someone is developing a rapid-id test that will enable them to target the flu vaccine much more precisely. It will be a few years before it is ready, though.

    Whether or not to get a flu shot is an individual choice, and I don’t have a problem with people who prefer not to. You’re not in a high risk group like the elderly where you might die from the flu, anyway.

    SoftwareMom  |  November 7th, 2008 at 8:04 am

  • I don’t get the flu shot for me or my 2 year old daughter either. I just don’t see the point. My work offers free flu shots and I still won’t get one. I know lots of people do, and that’s fine. If it works for you, great. I’m just not willing to inject myself with something that could potentially make me sick when I rarely get the flu anyways.

    Marcia  |  November 7th, 2008 at 9:15 am

  • After having lived in Colorado during a particular bad round of flu that killed several children, I’m religious about getting it for myself and my children. Of course it’s all personal. I believe the benefits outweigh the risks. I agree that it’s not 100% effective, but since it’s free, I don’t see the harm. I am glad we live in a country where everyone has their free choice in the matter though. Best to you.

    Kim  |  November 7th, 2008 at 2:19 pm

  • I work on other people’s computers as part of my job. I do believe in water and soap -until my hands are chapped. But I also care for my 84 year old mother so I can’t afford the flu. The flu shots have worked for me.
    Thimersol and live flu cultures were an issue which they have corrected.
    As Kim said - I don’t see the harm and the few that it helps will possibly save some lives. Best wishes for a healthy winter.

    Pam  |  November 15th, 2008 at 10:53 pm