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Why I'm not getting the swine flu vaccine

The lead paragraph of today's story on the results of a new Washington Post-ABC News poll pretty much sums up where I am on whether I should get the swine flu vaccine: "Americans have become increasingly alarmed about the swine flu, but many are wary about getting vaccinated against the disease." I say “pretty much” because my wariness has nothing to do with concerns about safety. I just have this thing about flu shots.

Since the H1N1 virus burst onto the scene last April, I've spent a lot of time talking to the folks at the Department of Health and Human Services. The vaccine is safe and efficacious. While people's reactions to a vaccine can vary, you have nothing big to fear from the swine flu or the seasonal flu vaccine. So, if you want to get vaccinated, get vaccinated. Statistically, it’s a good thing for people to get their flu shots.

But individuals might have all sorts of reasons they avoid it. My record of avoidance goes back to when I was a young editorialist at the New York Daily News in 1993. My colleague, Kim, asked if I was going to get a flu shot. Afraid of needles, I said no. With great concern, she gave me many reasons why I should get the seasonal flu vaccine. And off she trooped to get her dose of fortification. Now, I'd heard that people might get a little sick afterwards. You know, a little sniffle as the body suited up to do battle. But Kim was rather ill the next day, and then she was out for, like, a week. I figured I'd take my chances. In the 16 years since Kim's lecture, I believe I was only knocked out once by some bug that sent my body temperature soaring and riddled me with aches and pains. Lucky, I guess.

By Jonathan Capehart  | October 22, 2009; 6:00 PM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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Considering that this flu has potential to kill millions of people I would want something more than an anecdote to be persuaded.

The world of 2009 is vastly more mobile than that of 1918 and should this strain follow the same pattern as 1918 and well it might, being the same antigenic strain, this one has the possibility of a real pandemic and a shuffling of world power.

Flu shots hurt. Sometimes people have reactions. Mostly it's a forgettable two-minute experience.

Posted by: GoldAndTanzanite | October 22, 2009 11:58 PM | Report abuse

Since you look young enough to have missed the related strain in the late 1950s, I hope your resistance is good. But if you do get sick, for heaven sakes, stay home!

Posted by: annetta3 | October 23, 2009 12:35 AM | Report abuse

i hope most people don't follow your example. the last thing we need is a ton of knuckleheads walking around spreading a deadly disease because the shot "give me a booboo" or because glenn beck has told them that obama is going to inject them with commie juice. let's get practical. we're dealing with a serious public health crisis.

Posted by: memorybabe1 | October 23, 2009 5:08 AM | Report abuse

Johnathan, if you would rather not get the swine flu shot, then you had better do it, and decrease the moron population.

I hope all morons avoid it. And avoid me, too. That's why I don't go to NASCAR events, Teabag rallies and Big and Rich concerts. Not that you're a righty Mr. Capehart, but as a dedicated moron, you would fit 'right' in.

Posted by: secretaryofspite | October 23, 2009 5:24 AM | Report abuse

The past is never a good predictor of the future - not even the flu.


But you have to pay for your mistakes.

Posted by: gary4books | October 23, 2009 6:03 AM | Report abuse

Why I am not getting the H1N1 flu shot: Because my doctor told me that I do not fall in the "high risk' group. I was at his office, 20 steps away from the lab, and he would NOT authorize me to get the shot! I am 46, I work at an elementary school, part-time-surrounded by children. Yet, because I am not elderly or pregnant, and even though the majority who have succumbed to the disease are within the ages of 18 and 50? my doctor refused to give me the shot. go figure

Posted by: mimo1 | October 23, 2009 7:27 AM | Report abuse

Mimo, while you do not fall in the "high risk" group (pregnant women, people with immune deficiency problems, and children with asthma and similar conditions), if I were in your shoes I'd certainly want the shot. Does your doctor perhaps have a limited supply and is keeping it for those he deems "high risk"? If so, you may be able to find another source. If your doctor is "denying" you the vaccine because of his/her personal opinions, even though you asked for it, I'd think about changing doctors.

Being 70 years old, I am in the age group supposedly less vulnerable to H1N1, so I will ask my doctor's advice. I know that one of my adult sons is getting the H1N1 vaccine as soon as it is available to him - I'll check on my other sons' plans.

As for Capehart's decision, well, he's an adult and can make his own choices. I do hope, however, that if he starts feeling feverish and is coughing, that he has the sense and sensibility to stay home and avoid the risk of infecting others.

Posted by: vklip | October 23, 2009 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Exactly mimo. I never got a flu shot before because I believe that the elderly and very young needed those doses more than I did. But this year my company is offering the shot for free so I signed up.

All this hysteria over vaccinations...I don't remember people getting nearly as worked up when NY started spraying PESTICIDES over people's homes and water supplies to combat the scourge of West Nile virus, which killed what? a dozen people or so over the last decade?

Nothing more popular in this country than a good, old-fashioned populist terror wave.

Posted by: Please_Fix_VAs_Roads | October 23, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Yes if you are sick stay home, buisnesses and schools definately should reinforce this! Many schools arent, but we need to get this under control. I think the people that should be treated is the infected ones first.

Posted by: xbiracialxbeautyx | October 23, 2009 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Jonathan--Did you ever consider that perhaps your colleague who got sick immediately after getting a flu shot ALREADY HAD the flu before getting the shot?

Posted by: senseofhumor | October 23, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

I went for years without being vaccinated for influenza and never had the infection. I had done influenza research as a graduate student and thought that I had been exposed to all the major strains and had antibody aplenty. Then one year,when I worked in a hospital laboratory that diagnosed viral diseases, we isolated the virus from the lungs of a previously healthy, young man who died within 48 hours of being diagnosed with flu in the ER. I have gotten vaccinated every year since.

Posted by: margaretbritt | October 23, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

When you get the vaccine, you are getting the flu. Though it is a much weaker form. However, it can still make you sick for a little while. It's called balancing risks.

Posted by: tarded2much | October 23, 2009 1:41 PM | Report abuse

I have never had a flu shot although it's not because I'm afraid of needles. So far I have been blessed.

Posted by: rlj1 | October 23, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

I am glad to see someone using some common sense. Too often what is going around is horrific ANECDOTES about this vaccine was made to kill Christians or will cause cancer or some other nonsence.

If you are in the risk group, get vaccinated. If not - take precautions to prevent the spread of the disease to someone else who may be at a higher risk.

If you have symptoms, have some courtesy for others and stay home or cover your mouth and noses.

Heed the advise of doctors not the NAYSAYERs or uneduated spouting some theory without proof. This virus can kill, and please don't forget that.

Posted by: kare1 | October 23, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Jonathan, do you realize how stupid you appear? 16 years ago, a friend got immunized. She got sick the next day. Based on that, you will never get immunized. Let's see, you confused correlation with causation. You drew conclusions about what made her sick the next day without investigating what actually WAS the source of her illness. Finally, you ignore the uncontroverted conclusions of proven experts: You have had a good lucky streak of not getting ill, and now you think it somehow makes you less likely to get a disease that the doctors say NO ONE has any natural immunity to.

So, should we trust your diligence, intelligence and rigor when we ask you to report the news to us?

Better to have kept quiet about your ignorance....

Posted by: Dollared | October 23, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm...all these comments on Capeheart's stupidity, but none talking about his selfishness. Part of the point of vaccination is to reduce the spread of infection to others, should the unthinkable happen and you actually get sick.

Take one for the team, Jonathan!

Posted by: rjb91 | October 24, 2009 7:29 AM | Report abuse

Vaccinations have been consistently shown to be the safest form of medications around. Granted, there is no such thing as a perfect result, and yes, there were problem in the 70's with the then swine flu vaccine, but that was more than 30 years ago. Between you and Bill Maher there is not one iota of valid reason for not being vaccinated.

Posted by: coprogirl | October 24, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Let's see, on the same day the the President declares a nationwide state of emergency about the H1N1 virus, a personal anecdote about fear of vaccines appears in the WashPost editorials.

On the one hand we have all of the health services telling us that the H1N1 vaccine is as safe as ever, while on the other hand Jonathan tells us a lame story about a colleague who got sick. Since this colleague got sick around the same time she received a vaccination (nice job implying causality), old Jon here is letting us know that we shouldn't trust the safety of vaccinations (or at the very least he won't).

Shame on you for publishing this claptrap. Be responsible and follow up this drivel with the CDC statement regarding vaccine safety:

"October 19, 2009, 6:00 PM ET
The 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccines are expected to have similar safety profiles as seasonal flu vaccines, which have very good safety track records. Over the years, hundreds of millions of Americans have received seasonal flu vaccines. The most common side effects following flu vaccinations are mild..."

Once again, shame on you at the Washington Post for publishing this nonsense instead of posting the important and useful information that we all need right now.

Posted by: tobrien2 | October 24, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

This individual misses the point: the reason to be vaccinated is to prevent spread of the disease. Frankly, I have no interest in whether this self-centered fellow gets the flu or not. I do care whether the children of his co-workers get it from him.

Posted by: joesolo1 | October 24, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

this post reminded me of one of those old "Deep Thoughts" by Jack Handy stories.

Posted by: bigdick1 | October 24, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Puh-leeze!!! You all are commenting as if getting an H1N1 shot were actually an easy option. In the region of the country where I live, you can't find the vaccine to save your life. (Sorry!) Yesterday my daughter spiked a 103 fever, aches, chills, sore throat, dry cough, and sure enough, it's H1N1. She was seen in an urgent care clinic on day 1 of symptoms, tested via nasal swab culture,given an antiviral, and woke up the next day, fever free and feeling much better. Her cousin had same symptoms, attends same infected school. Went to different urgent care clinic, where not only did they not bother testing him, they didn't give him an antiviral. He's still running a high fever and feeling awful. What's the point of the media hysteria when 1)you can't FIND the vaccine to get it and 2) once you have H1N1 some places aren't treating it anyway?

Posted by: magicwend | October 24, 2009 6:34 PM | Report abuse

I have been getting the flu shot every year, since 2002. Never had a problem, or a negative reaction to it. ZERO. NADA.

I came about to the idea that those who do not get the vaccine - like Capehart - do it under the premise of their own cowardcy. They are afraid of viruses that come with that ugly little needle that is going to give me an "awe."

Give me a break...

Posted by: cristina1999us | October 24, 2009 8:33 PM | Report abuse

Why are your columns so short? Maybe what your\ write would be more understandable if I saw the newspaper, but online I read your columns and at most they are 3 paragraphs long, yet other opinion pieces are 10 times that long. Whats up with that?

Posted by: BenH | October 25, 2009 2:41 AM | Report abuse

If someone gets sick after receiving either the seasonal or the H1N1 vaccine, it is pure coincidence. Both vaccines are made from dead viruses, that means inactive, and cannot cause the receiver to contract the disease. Period. Now go ask your doctor; he/she will verify this information for you all.

Posted by: LeftyinNH | October 26, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

I have been HIV positive for just under 15 years now. Thankfully, medications have kept me fairly healthy (except two cases of Shingles over that time). I do tend to get hit pretty hard when I do get a cold. I work in Manhattan and use mass transit. Automatically, your chances of catching something from someone are increased ten fold just from being in such close contact with so many people every day. I can't tell you how much I cringe every time someone sneezes into their hand then hold on to the railing with the same hand. I also get stressed every time I'm on a train and the person behind me coughs and I can feel the breeze on the back of my neck because they can't be bothered to put their cell phone down to cover their mouth. Clearly, you can't stay home every time you have the sniffles... no school or business will put up with that. But, to the extent that you can do something that will help prevent the spread of something, doing so is morally the right thing to do. Every year, millions of people die from seasonal flu. So far this year, something like 99% of reported flu cases have been H1N1. It's simple, vaccinated people will either not catch the flu and therefore not spread it... or catch it and have a much more mild case and be contagious for a shorter period limiting the number of other people they may infect. This is something that can be very scary to someone like me. Every year there are cases of people who do have reactions to the regular seasonal flu shots... and even resulting in deaths. However, these numbers are dwarfed by the number of deaths resulting from the flu itself. So if someone chooses to not be vaccinated for either H1N1 or seasonal flu... please at least do everything you can to limit the possibility of contracting it and for God's sake... if you do get sick... stay home.

Posted by: NJJoey | October 26, 2009 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Previous posters have outlined the reasons to get the flu vaccine. I'll just point out that the headline should read "Why I am an illogical egotist".

Posted by: mnteng | October 26, 2009 2:50 PM | Report abuse

What a dumb column. Why would you display your total ignorance in such a public manner? You can't get the flu from the flu shot, because it's a dead virus. Your friend may have already had the flu, or caught a completely unrelated bug (bacterial or viral) with flu-like symptoms.

Can't the Post find someone with a brain to write about this stuff?

Posted by: Katya2 | October 26, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

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