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The skinny on flu shots

This Magazine Staff

Here in Toronto, I’m hiding in my apartment as the temperature hovers just above zero and I’m wondering how it is that I turned out to be such a wimp when I spent my formative years in Winnipeg, the land of cold and snow and over-sized Halloween costumes fitted over snowsuits. It seems to be an annual tradition that each time the clocks change in the fall, Canadians forget how to drive, forget how to deal with a few snowflakes and start spewing off theory after ridiculous theory about the wintertime, most of which revolve around getting sick and not getting sick.
From the sound advice to the old wives’ tales, nothing permeates the airwaves more than BS about the flu shot. Here are a list of common excuses for not getting the flu shot, and why they are wrong:
“But I never get sick!”
Well, I’ve never been abducted by aliens, but that doesn’t mean that if there weren’t some sort of clinically-proven alien abduction vaccine on the market, I wouldn’t be storming the doors. I can’t imagine an alien abduction is too pleasant, so much like measles and meningicoccus, I’d err on the side of safety. In case my sardonic for-instance wasn’t clear, just because you’ve never gotten the flu before, doesn’t mean that you won’t get it this year.
“Last year I got the flu shot and I still got sick.”
This one has two possible explanations. Most likely, you are mistaking an upper respiratory infection for the flu. The Ontario Ministry of Health offers a nice chart detailing the difference between the flu and the common cold. Convention has led to many people associating any affliction with a stuffy nose and a sore throat as the flu, when in actuality Influenza is quite serious.
The second possible explanation for your bedriddeness is this: the flu shot does not work instantaneously, and the flu virus does not attack instantaneously, so it’s very possible that you could have already had the flu when you got the shot, or gotten it shortly thereafter, in which case the flu shot wouldn’t have had a chance to work yet.
“The flu shot gives you the flu.”
This is simply not true. The flu shot, like any other vaccine, is meant to introduce a small bit of the virus into your body to help stimulate your immune system and make it easier to fight off the flu, as ABC News explains. Though it’s possible to have a bad reaction to the vaccine, more than likely the worst you’ll get is a sore arm and a yellow lollipop (the red ones went to those who got their shots early, like they’re supposed to).

“I got the flu shot last year.”
Good for you! Now, if you will, please go and get it again. Like you and I, the flu virus changes every year and thus each year the vaccine is adapted to the three most common strains for the season.
“I am part of super race of humans that were born immune to petty trivialities such as the flu, the common cold, bad breath and crying.”
Well, goody for you and your superior genes, but unfortunately most of us lesser humans (your coworkers, family, grandparents, the little old lady at the mall who collects Salvation Army donations) are not quite as equipped, so you should get the flu shot as well because of something called “herd mentality.” As a article explains, the more people immunized, the less likely they are to pass the virus on to someone who didn’t get the vaccine, thus lowering flu rates all around. However, herd immunity requires a critical mass, so while you may not need it, getting the flu shot is the socially responsible thing to do.
One more reason to get the flu shot: If you live in Ontario, where flu shots are available for free all around, your tax dollars already paid for it.
For fair measure, here three legitimate reasons for not getting the flu shot:
1) You are allergic to any of its components
2) You are an infant (or have an infant-like fear of getting needles, I guess)
3) You are Chuck Norris
As far as flu and cold myths go, chicken soup has actually been shown to help make you feel better. Stock up on some broth and veggies on your way home from the flu clinic, just in case.
More Information:
Health Canada on the flu
Free flu shots linked to fewer deaths, says the CBC
QuackCast podcast disproves various flu myths
And, on one final note, for anyone confused about the difference between herd immunity and herd mentality: herd immunity is the theory that if enough people get vaccinated against the flu, those remaining who did not get the shot will be protected as well. A sort of immunization-by-proxy. Herd mentality is what happens when Americans get so obsessed with getting their kids a Wii for Christmas that they trample a Wal-Mart worker to death at five in the morning.

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