For the last six years, I’ve rolled up my sleeve or inhaled it. I’m not talking illegal substances, though. I’m talking about flu vaccine. It doesn’t matter if it’s a shot or mist, I get vaccinated every flu season. But, it hasn’t always been that way.
Survey says less than 50% of the population gets a flu shot. I used to be one of those people. I am also the mother of an 11 year old son, and despite being fully immunized with the recommended childhood vaccines, he didn’t get his first flu shot until he was two years old. I didn’t get a flu shot before, during or after my pregnancy. Surprised? Me too. So, what changed my mind?
In 2006, I applied for a position at a community immunization coalition that was expanding from its staff of one. The week before my November interview I got sick. Miserably sick – in bed, fever, aches. In fact, I showed up to my interview coughing, with a Venti sized hot water and honey because I wasn’t convinced my sore throat would make it through the interview. I obviously had influenza, I hadn’t gotten vaccinated, and they hired me anyway. The next flu season, my son and I got vaccinated – I didn’t want to relive the misery of the year before and I believe that public health professionals have a duty to practice what we preach – whether it’s immunization, tobacco use, disease prevention, etc.
Fast forward to 2009. My son came home from summer day camp not feeling well and my fears were verified by the sample taken by our doctor; he had H1N1. (Disclaimer: He had been vaccinated that season but it didn’t protect against H1N1, and the new vaccine wasn’t yet available) He was really sick. The sickest I’ve ever seen him. We both took Tamiflu and I spent the next 10 days taking care of him. I missed work and other activities, but more importantly, I spent 10 days worrying if he was going to make it to his 8th birthday. Having to worry about your child dying is something no parent should have to do.
It’s not like I was ignorant about the severity of influenza. My great grandfather and my great aunt died in the influenza pandemic of 1918, leaving behind their spouses and young children. But, that wasn’t enough to motivate me to get vaccinated. I was a healthy 30-something, I ate a mostly vegetarian diet full of organic foods and I was a runner. What I didn’t pay attention to was that I was a caregiver to a newborn, who needed my protection because he was too young to be protected. Unfortunately, getting vaccinated wasn’t a recommendation I was given when he was an infant. Four years later, our local hospital started “cocooning” new babies by offering flu and Tdap vaccines to new parents. Today, cocooning is standard practice in birthing hospitals across the U.S.
In the last 6 years, have I gotten the flu from a flu vaccine? Nope. Have I felt side effects from my body working to protect me? Absolutely. Arm soreness, fever, sore throat – they’re worth it knowing that not only am I keeping myself healthy each flu season, but I’m also protecting those who can’t protect themselves.
In my position as Executive Director of Immunize Nevada, I meet a lot of people and I’ve heard countless stories about how terrible vaccine-preventable diseases such as influenza can be. So don’t take a chance, and don’t be a statistic. Log onto InFLUenceNevada.org, click on find flu clinic locations and take charge of your health. It’s not too late and your family, friends and community will thank you.