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No Flu Shot? What's Your Excuse?

Have you had your flu shot yet?

According to a survey released Monday by Consumer Reports, 52 percent of 2,011 Americans surveyed October 9-14 said they planned to avail themselves of the influenza vaccine this year.

What about the rest?

Despite the fact that most respondents acknowledged that flu shots are cheap and convenient, 45 percent said they weren't getting shots this year. A quarter of those said they believed the vaccine was ineffective; that's almost understandable, given the poor match between last year's vaccine and the flu that circulated, which resulted in even vaccinated people's getting ill. But this year's vaccine appears to be better matched to the disease it's meant to prevent. (Either that, or it's just a milder flu season than usual. Check the prevalence of flu in your area here.)

Others said they had themselves, or knew someone who had, gotten sick after receiving a flu shot. Experts debunk that notion, saying that those who get sick after having a shot were most likely infected before the shot, and the illness just didn't materialize until after the jab. Flu vaccine contains flu virus that's been inactivated, or killed, so it's not capable of causing disease. (The nasal vaccine, FluMist, uses an attenuated -- not completely killed -- flu virus, which could theoretically cause illness but doesn't in practice. I can vouch for that: I've used it myself.)

Others -- 45 percent of those who planned not to have shots -- said they simply don't ever get sick, so why bother with a shot? While it may be true that some people's immune systems do a better job of protecting them from illness than others, the flu is notorious for striking otherwise young and healthy people -- and for sometimes felling them.

A drum roll, please, for the no-flu-shot explanation that beats all: 5 percent of those opting out of the vaccination said they'd rather get sick than have to go to work. Wow. Those folks must have miserable jobs. I've never (knock on wood) had a bad case of the flu myself, but from what I've heard, it makes going to even the nastiest job seem preferable to high fever, headaches, chills, runny nose, cough and (mostly in children) vomiting and diarrhea.

The Consumer Reports site bashes a dozen excuses for not getting the shot and also offers additional steps people can take to help keep themselves healthy during flu season, which peaks in North America in February.

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about reasons to get vaccinated against influenza. A new one was reported just last week: apparently flu shots help protect against blood clots.

UPDATE: Google has announced its uncanny ability to track flu activity based on the number of people in a given geographical area doing Google searches for information about flu symptoms and other flu-related topics. The real-time system did as good a job of locating flu activity as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's system last year -- and was able to identify flu hot spots a week or two sooner than the CDC did. Google is sharing its info with the CDC; identifying flu outbreaks early on may be key to containing them.

Surely by now you're convinced that you ought to get a flu shot. So, tell me about your job: Is it really so awful that you'd rather be too sick to work?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  November 12, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Prevention  
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Comments

I am strongly in favor of vaccinating children for childhood diseases, but on the flu shot I'm less adamant.

If you can afford to be off of work awhile and don't have friends/family whose health would be gravely threatened by the flu, and don't want to get one then it's OK with me.

Personally I had the experience of being sick when I had no leave and being in hot water at work, and have family members with compromised immune systems, so I was right there the first day getting one. But, it is a free country and the flu is always an option.

Now childhood vaccinations, which last a lifetime and can have serious implications are a different matter.

Posted by: RedBird27 | November 12, 2008 7:03 AM | Report abuse

I agree with REDBird....but even more insidious is that these vaccines do not necessarily target the flu strain that is current. When they develop these vaccines its for the strain that was current the year before...these strains are ALWAYS mutating. Sometimes your body needs to REST and getting sick is your body's way of saying...I need a break! Being a healthcare professional I never get the vaccine it's danger is greater than its effectiveness in most cases. Take some vit C drink some fluids and give your body a rest. Overwork and stress can reek havoc on your immune system which is why you catch the flu in the first place. Take care of yourself first...the work will get done.

Posted by: chynna12169 | November 12, 2008 7:19 AM | Report abuse

Its the flu... I'm a 30 year old healthy woman who hasn't had the flu since 2001 when I first moved to DC from Florida. I've never had a flu shot and I see no reason to get a shot which may or may not prevent me from getting sick. People who are more at risk (ie childern, elderly, and maybe even pregnant women) are possibly better off getting the shot but for me, its not necessary. Now if they had something for colds, then maybe I'd consider it.

Posted by: mhseminole | November 12, 2008 7:20 AM | Report abuse

My husband is high school teacher and I work in a more or less public position with a local government AND we have a 1.5 yr old. We all, always get the flu shot.

chynna12169 said, "Being a healthcare professional I never get the vaccine it's danger is greater than its effectiveness in most cases."
I wonder if you would care to explain what danger you see in the flu vaccine? I am not aware of any danger from the flu vaccine. I literally know thousands of people who get it every year and have never heard of any one having any adverse reaction or effect. But, maybe you know something we don't? Thanks!

Posted by: VaLGaL | November 12, 2008 7:53 AM | Report abuse

I got the flu shot for the first (and likely last) time this year. The only reason I got it is that it's strongly recommended for pregnant women. Otherwise, I think it's just another unnecessary medical interference for most healthy adults.

Posted by: newsahm | November 12, 2008 9:02 AM | Report abuse

I have never gotten the flu, but one year I got a flu shot--and that year I got pneumonia. I have a friend whose elderly father got pneumonia ever year he got a flu shot until she put a note in his file at the nursing home that he was never to get a flu shot again. And no more pneumonia. Now, medical professionals will tell me that there is no relationship between the flu shot and getting pneumonia. But I will not be getting another flu shot until the potential benefit outways the potential risk. Since I am not getting the flu anyway, there doesn't seem to be a potential benefit at this time.

Posted by: janedoe5 | November 12, 2008 9:04 AM | Report abuse

I don't get the flu shot; I find it generally ineffective at best and the cause of an illness (due to proximity following the injection) at worst. Instead, I stick with a large daily dose of Vitamin C; I have better luck with that...

Posted by: tws1372 | November 12, 2008 9:05 AM | Report abuse

Um, because the shot is BS???

I'm not taking it!

Posted by: gm123 | November 12, 2008 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Flu shots are as pointless as a lottery ticket.

Whenever I happen to get the flu I take to bed and sleep it off, and it's gone in 24 to 48 hours-- it never lasts longer than that if treated with bed rest and plenty of liquids.

I don't get laryngitis, bronchitis, pneumonia; I don't need antibiotics, painkillers, "flu medicine"-- I simply sleep it off instead of pumping my body with chemicals as most people are brainwashed to do. You should try it sometime.

I love my work and the place where I work (at home), but a day of rest is a part of life and never hurt anyone-- what's the big drama?

Posted by: alarico | November 12, 2008 9:32 AM | Report abuse

How about I resent public nannies telling me to get something I don't need or want. I am in my sixth decade, have never had the flu, and trust my own instincts more than than some busybody's.

Posted by: sue1047 | November 12, 2008 10:02 AM | Report abuse

I usually get a flu shot - I have immunocompromised relatives - but I haven't taken it this year. Reason: I've had a lingering respiratory infection since September and the nurse at my office won't stick me until I stop coughing.

Posted by: northgs | November 12, 2008 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Nate Silver would tell me that this is an unacceptably small sample size, but 7 out of 8 people I have talked to in the last two weeks, that said they currently have a "cold", also said that they had gotten the flu shot within the last week. Of those 7, 6 of them has received the flu shot 2-3 days prior, and the other was a week prior.

At this point, when I see someone with a cold, I just say, "When did you get the flu shot?"

Posted by: conare | November 12, 2008 10:19 AM | Report abuse

is the washington post getting money for every time this column mentions how fantastic flu shots are? enough all ready.

i'm sick of public health officials (and certain columnists, ahem) making it sound like anyone who doesn't get a flu shot is a cave man or just plain crazy. GET OVER IT! it's not a cure for cancer, malaria, or AIDS, for heavens sake.

in fact, maybe that's why so many health officials are pumping these dumb shots so much -- they can't find cures to the big diseases that pose an acute threat to the health of the MAJORITY of the world's population, so they're over emphasizing a treatment that isn't even that effective for an illness that, again, doesn't even pose a serious threat to the MAJORITY of the people on earth.

flu shots are the biggest propoganda campaign the health community has ever wagered. i'm not paying $45 or $20 on a gamble that will most likely not even pay off.

Posted by: dan35 | November 12, 2008 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Don't flu vaccinations contain formaldehyde?

Posted by: stevorama1 | November 12, 2008 11:24 AM | Report abuse

I stopped getting flu shots 18 years ago when I got one of the worst episodes of flu in my life, and used my holiday vacation as sick time. I've occasionally gotten flu, but also been healthy when others at work were dropping like flies. I'm more likely to catch a cold or sinus infection, but I attribute those to lack of sleep, long work hours, stress and poor ventilation at work, where sick coworkers cough and sneeze in their cubicles and their germs are dispersed to those nearby. And regarding possible harmful side effects, it's very difficult to get preservative-free vaccine, if you are concerned about the mercury. My employer doesn't provide it and neither does my neighborhood pharmacy. I would have to pay for a doctor's office visit to get it and that's too much money for a 50/50 chance of prevention.

Posted by: Kathy18 | November 12, 2008 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Jennifer Huget: "But this year's vaccine appears to be better matched to the disease it's meant to prevent."
Nonsense, the CDC Flu Weekly report clearly says: "It is too early in the influenza season to determine which influenza viruses will predominate or how well the vaccine and circulating strains will match."

chynna12169: "Sometimes your body needs to REST and getting sick is your body's way of saying...I need a break! Being a healthcare professional" WHAAAT???. Your body infects itself with the flu virus because it needs a break?

conare: "Nate Silver would tell me that this is an unacceptably small sample size, but 7 out of 8 people I have talked to in the last two weeks, that said they currently have a "cold", also said that they had gotten the flu shot within the last week. Of those 7, 6 of them has received the flu shot 2-3 days prior, and the other was a week prior."
The question is how many people that you talked to in the last two weeks got the flu shot but they don't have a cold ... Your finding might just be reflecting the fact that many are getting flu shots at this time of the year.

Posted by: ogs123 | November 12, 2008 11:39 AM | Report abuse

You people are nuts. Many flu strains can put an otherwise healthy adult in bed for a week or more.

I started getting the shot every year after my son was born in 2001. Before that, I avoided it as "unnecessary" but almost always came down with a bad case of flu. I also seemed to get a lot more colds.

Get the shot early on, when it's first avaialable in October. I get it when they offer it at work, usually mid-October.

One of my colleagues wasn't able to get it due to a sinus infection. I guess he didn't bother to get a shot when he was off all last week. Today he called in sick--he's got the flu. The rest of us in our group are fine.

Posted by: ItshotinPHX | November 12, 2008 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Yippee! An afternoon of conspiracy theorists who use lots of exclamation points and no references!

I've read so much (primary, peer-reviewed) stuff on autism, vaccines, mercury, aluminum, Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, etc that I've gone cross-eyed. I have a PhD, so I'm capable of making a pretty informed scientific decision. I've also had the actual flu. Not a bad cold. Not a stomach virus. Influenza. The thing that puts you in bed for a week and makes deciding on getting up to go to the bathroom or holding it until you can barely stand the pain the most agonizing, exhausting decision you've ever had to make. I get my flu shot Friday.

I'm also pregnant. Pregnancy and the flu = not good. I also have a toddler. I can only imagine the fun and joy of taking care of a toddler with the flu. I also have a husband in health care. We all get the shot.

I'd be more than happy to consider anything in NEJM, JAMA, PNAS, Cell, Science, Nature, etc that confirms any conspiracy theories. That's the thing about science: it's meant to be challenged. The whole joy is chasing down the hypotheses.

Posted by: atb2 | November 12, 2008 11:48 AM | Report abuse

One year there was a shortage. Save them for the elderly and those that really need it.

Posted by: ngsaunders | November 12, 2008 11:51 AM | Report abuse

I haven't had the flu in 20+ years. I'm in my 30s, in good health, and don't live with kids, seniors, or anyone with compromised immunity. So, until I fall into a particular risk group, I guess I just don't see the need. That said, my parents (who are over 60) get the shot every year, and I'm glad they do.

Posted by: Janine1 | November 12, 2008 12:46 PM | Report abuse

My excuse? I'll tell you.
I'm 4 months pregnant. The conventional health wisdom is that I'm irresponsible and probably crazy to not get a flu shot to protect myself and my unborn baby.

Research has connected exposure to influenza in the first two trimesters of pregnancy with an increased risk of the adult child developing schizophrenia. Wow, I should really get the shot, right? But wait - more recent research has raised the possibility that it's not the virus per se, but the mother's immune reaction to it that triggers the schizophrenia risk. And the point of the immunization is to trigger an immune reaction. In an article published in this very paper on 11/27/07, a flu researcher admits that if his wife were pregnant during flu season, he wouldn't want her to get the shot.

It always takes a while for the CDC and other outlets of standard medical advice to catch up with the latest findings. And more research needs to be done. But since I haven't had the flu since I was a young child, yet would certainly undergo an immune reaction by getting a shot, I'll go with what seems the lower risk and skip the shot.

Posted by: MHinNC | November 12, 2008 12:49 PM | Report abuse

I guess I just don't see the need. That said, my parents (who are over 60) get the shot every year, and I'm glad they do.

You just might want to get the shot if you are planning on seeing your parents. Nothing is 100% and if you get the flu, you could give it to them or their friends. Immunization isn't just about protecting yourself, it is about protecting those amongst us who are the most vulnerable.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | November 12, 2008 1:19 PM | Report abuse

I only got one this year because I'm helping my elderly parents a lot anymore.

Once about 10 years ago I had the flu and I really did feel like death for nearly a week. Every old bug gets called the flu, but it's much worse than those. I should probably get the vaccine more often, but I just don't.

Posted by: sarahabc | November 12, 2008 1:25 PM | Report abuse

“I can vouch for that: I've used it myself.”
One anecdotal story does not disprove scientific theory nor is it relevant to scientific theory.

“the flu is notorious for striking otherwise young and healthy people -- and for sometimes felling them”
Unless they have co morbid conditions, complications other then being sick for a few days are exceeding rare.

The “Top 12”
“It’s better to build your own natural immunities (67 percent). 2 You don’t get sick (45 percent).”
If you already live an otherwise healty lifestyle and actively reduce your risks of contracting influenza, these actions support #1 and #2 (Not Excuses)

“You or someone you know has gotten sick from the vaccine”
Flumist contradicts this, but the link fail to mention that flumist also makes the individual a risk to the general public by being a passive exposure point to everyone around them.

“You are worried about the side effects (35 percent).”
The CDC’s newest recommendation is that every child receives the shot. The doctors will not routinely screen for egg allergies prior to administering the vaccine, so this is actually a legitimate concern for every young child.

“You don’t like getting shots (27 percent)”
Freedom of choice is why this country was founded.

“You would rather get sick than go to work (5 percent)”
The employee most likely happier and more comfortable at home and is still getting paid.

“It’s ineffective”
The shot generally prevents the flu in varying percentages to varying age demographics for varying years with varying co morbid conditions. That is about as quantitative as you can get.
…And it has been shown to reduce hospitalizations from pneumonia or other complications by… is hyperbole of the worst years and broad rage of estimates for the numbers of hospitializations/deaths.

“He/she got the flu?”
Did they in fact get the flu or do they have a cold, virus, or other ILI (Influenza like illness) that the vaccine will never prevent

Posted by: cakkallen@rstarmail.com | November 12, 2008 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Remember the great swine flu scare of the 1970s? It was supposed to be the deadliest thing since 1918 and thousands of people rushed to get vaccinated. Many of those subsequently developed Guillan-Barre syndrome related to the vaccine and were debilitated for the rest of their lives. And the killer flu epidemic? It never materialized. Flu vaccines are rushed into production each year without the years of rigorous testing and clinical trials that ought to be mandatory for all vaccines. Me, I'd rather rely on my own immune system. Even if I get sick a few days of work is a small price to pay for not getting messed up for life.

Posted by: baddabing1 | November 12, 2008 2:11 PM | Report abuse

So how about The Post doing more than just talking about flu shots...how about some information about where they are available?

That would have a much greater impact than this blog.

Posted by: seahawkdad | November 12, 2008 2:18 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure people who sell flu shots think we all need to get one, but they make me sick and don't prevent me from getting the flu is the reason I don't get one. I'd rather take my chances.

Posted by: SarahBB | November 12, 2008 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Moxiemom1, that's a fair point, but I don't see them often (they live far away) and probably won't during peak flu season. If we had more regular contact, I'd weigh things differently.

Posted by: Janine1 | November 12, 2008 3:50 PM | Report abuse

So I haven't gotten the flu shot yet because my insurance doesn't cover it. I believe in vaccinations, but I just think that the flu isn't a life threatening disease like Polio, so why bother. Last year I got really sick for about 4 days, and my friend (who is a pediatrician) was teasing me about not getting the flu shot. Anyways, I went to my own doctor and he said you don't have the flu (influenza). You're really sick, he said, but went on to list the specific symptoms of the flu and I didn't have that (high temps for about 2 weeks for example). Anyways, he was like you should get the flu shot now, but even if I gotten it before it wouldn't have protected me against what I had. I guess what I'm trying to say is that we tend to use the word flu in general terms, but the vaccine is for influenza, a specific virus. So while I understand why doctors push them, I really think its up to individuals to decide what they want to do and also realize that you might get another type of illness. Since I've never had the flu, I don't dish out the cash for it.

Posted by: newtoHouston | November 12, 2008 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Flu shots are for suckers, regardless of the smoke this article is trying to blow up our butts. Personally I will NEVER voluntarily take a flu shot. They are at best ineffective and at worst actively harmful to your health. Repeat: flu shots are for suckers...

Posted by: jerkhoff | November 12, 2008 7:41 PM | Report abuse

If you aren't very old, very young, very sick or very pregnant, or in constant contact with any of the above, flu shots are unnecessary and may someday do more harm than good.

You know how we now have bacteria -- TB, staph -- that are resistant to treatment due to years of overprescribing antibiotics? I worry the same thing can happen if we continue to innoculate against a relatively harmless (for most healthy people) virus that mutates constantly. We're setting ourselves up for the creation of a supervirus that will be deadly and we'll have no defense against it. I'd rather take my chances with a minor flu bug that goes away in a few days and perhaps boosts my immune system against future flus.

Also, many flu vaccines still contain thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that some believe causes autism and other neurological problems. I'm not convinced it causes autism, but even if it's harmless in small doses, mercury isn't something I want injected into my bloodstream unless the alternative is even worse.

Finally, I would rather see Big Pharma using its resources to cure, prevent and/or treat cancer, AIDS, diabetes, heart disease, etc. than wasting time and money creating a new flu vaccine every year that may or may not protect against the latest flu bug. I'd rather a cancer vaccine be available to me some day than have a sometimes worthless flu vaccine now.

Posted by: lhayes79 | November 12, 2008 9:03 PM | Report abuse

"Moxiemom1, that's a fair point, but I don't see them often (they live far away) and probably won't during peak flu season. If we had more regular contact, I'd weigh things differently."

Yes, but I'm willing to bet you come in contact (directly or indirectly) with the elderly or other at risk people on a pretty daily basis (grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants, transit, doctor's offices, elevators, office buildings, etc.) One of the reasons the flu vaccine is helpful is to prevent the spread of the disease. If less people are contracting it, the less it will be spread. So you are helping out your community by getting your flu vaccine. This is especially true if you can afford it/have insurance that covers it. Many elderly or others at risk people do not have such luxuries.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | November 18, 2008 11:56 AM | Report abuse

fr jerkhoff:

>Flu shots are for suckers, regardless of the smoke this article is trying to blow up our butts. Personally I will NEVER voluntarily take a flu shot. They are at best ineffective and at worst actively harmful to your health. Repeat: flu shots are for suckers...

So you're ok with the idea of passing the flu along to whole HOSTS of others? I'd much rather have the shot than be sick for a week. Flu shots are NOT "actively harmful to your health", either. Grow UP and realize that just because someone doesn't march in YOUR lockstep doesn't mean they're wrong.

Flu shots are NOT "for suckers".

Posted by: Alex511 | November 18, 2008 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Alex511,

“Grow UP and realize that just because someone doesn't march in YOUR lockstep doesn't mean they're wrong.”
Ad hominem attacks and Invoking Godwin’s law makes all of your weak arguments even weaker.

“So you're ok with the idea of passing the flu along to whole HOSTS of others?”
Being vaccinated does not prevent anyone from passing influenza to other individuals. Strains of influenza that you are exposed to are not always in the vaccine and you will be capable of passing that strain to everyone you come in contact with after your vaccination. Being vaccinated for influenza does not prove or disprove intelligence or decency.

“Flu shots are NOT "actively harmful to your health", either.”
The vaccine is acutely harmful to a large percent of the population with immune, health, and allergic issues. At best to date less than 40% of the US population has ever received the influenza vaccine in any one season.

Posted by: cakkallen@rstarmail.com | November 18, 2008 9:58 PM | Report abuse

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