Today I’m assuming my annual role as nag, surrogate great-aunt and just general pest.
Please tell me, although it’s really none of my business, have you gotten your flu shot yet this year?
You can hardly have missed the news stories and TV ads about the availability of the vaccine at pharmacies and doctors’ offices, plus the advisability of getting the shot by Oct. 31. Typically the flu season begins in November and peaks before March, but it takes about two weeks for a vaccine to begin to give your body any protection.
Scientists begin formulating the vaccine early in the year in order to have supplies ready by September, but should a new flu strain appear after the vaccine has been distributed, the shot may not offer protection for that variant. This is what has happened in recent years, leading some in the public to lose faith in the wisdom of getting a shot.
“Why should I bother if I’m going to get sick anyway?” they reason.
The answer is that people who get a flu vaccination and still get sick are likely to have a milder illness, plus a lower risk of developing pneumonia or becoming hospitalized. Bear in mind that getting a vaccination yourself means that people around you are also getting some protection.
I’ve known folks who are so nervous about getting any kind of shot that they will run a mile before letting a nurse approach them with a hypodermic needle. There is no injection, however, that even approaches the level of discomfort you feel while hobbling to the bathroom with a full-blown case of flu.
The last time I had flu was before the shots were available. I became ill on a Saturday evening and was flat on my back with a fever and the other memorable symptoms for five days. Obviously I didn’t die, but there were times during those five days when I felt so awful I didn’t care, one way or the other.
Years before I was born, my dad nearly died of flu (“grip” was what it was often called in those days). And around the time of World War I, a worldwide flu epidemic killed almost as many people as did the war itself. I remember looking through the microfilm files of early Greenville newspapers while I was doing a historical column called “Back When.” Every edition carried obituaries of young Hunt County residents whose deaths were listed as influenza.
If money is a problem, remember that Medicare, plus many health insurance plans, cover the cost of the shots, and some national drug store chains offer them free of charge.
According to an Associated Press story, Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases has had this response to patients griping about getting flu despite receiving shots; “I’m glad to see you’re still here to complain.”
So, mind me. Go get your shot.
Carol Ferguson is a weekend columnist for the Herald-Banner.