Tuesday, January 22, 2013

I got a flu shot today, but not for my benefit

I don't usually get flu shots. I'm pro-vaccine, and Boo has all of hers, and will be getting her HPV when the time comes. I get my Tetanus shot regularly, and even got an extra one before traveling to Russia, just in case. I've got vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B. But since the flu shot is typically 60% effective and I'm at low risk for death from it, and so is everyone in my household, I usually don't feel like it's worth getting stuck in the arm.

The last time I got one was during the SARS epidemic in 2003. I was working in Public Health at the time, and although I worked in an office building not a hospital building, the University asked everyone in the Medical Center to get a flu shot because we have many people who travel internationally (which increased the risk of SARS appearing on campus) and they wanted to reduce the number of flu cases so that SARS could be diagnosed more quickly.

That made sense to me as a reason to get a flu shot. The question was not just "will I get flu?" but also, "Will my flu make someone else's SARS worse?" So I got the shot.

Today was actually my first real opportunity to get a flu shot since the University started offering them this flu season, as I have had a cold pretty much non-stop all winter. But I realized that in a few weeks I'll be working in an HIV clinic. I may be at low risk for death from flu, but people with HIV are at high risk. The flu shot is also less effective on people with compromised immune systems, and the Departments of Health where I work have not had very many high-dose flu shots to go around (which is the preferred vaccine for people with HIV/AIDS.)

So for some of the people I'll be interacting with, their best shot at not getting flu is for me not to expose them to it. They may not be able to get the flu shot at all, and even if they get it, it may not work for them. And if they do get the flu, people with HIV can die from it.

That's worth getting stuck in the arm.

So I'm sore this evening, and my feel a bit flu-ish tomorrow. But I can pay that price, because I couldn't live with myself if I exposed a bunch of immunosuppressed people to the flu.

This is why I believe in vaccines. We do it for ourselves, I suppose, and for our children's health. But my child and I have healthy immune systems. Chances are, we could fend off whatever we got. After all, everyone I knew growing up had Chicken Pox and I don't remember anyone dying from it. And my  mom had the Mumps when she was a kid. Most of us can survive these childhood diseases. So we don't really immunize for ourselves.

We do it for the children who can't immunize or babies who are too young to get the immunizations. For the elderly, for the immunosuppressed, and for that one vulnerable person who for whatever reason can't defend against that particular disease. We do it because surviving Polio doesn't mean surviving intact, because Chicken Pox can become Shingles, and Mumps can leave you sterile.

If you don't immunize your children, you're saying you don't care about those people. You don't care if someone else's child dies because of your decision. You don't care if your child becomes a vector who spreads disease to others. You will take the risk of your child (or someone else's) becoming a cripple, or suffering in old age, or not being able to have children of her own. You care more about depriving Big Pharma of your money than you do about being part of a community.

So I got a flu shot today, but it wasn't for me. Did you get yours?

1 comment:

  1. Great PSA! And yup, we got our flu shots this year. Hilary's asthma makes her more vulnerable so we've been getting them since long before it was the "in" thing to do.