I Want You! (to be a virtuous virus firebreak)

I’ve been terribly tardy in getting my flu shot this year, but I finally did it today.  (Turns out there’s a bit of a run on for vaccinations in DC; my original appointment was cancelled because the pharmacy ran out, and I had to phone six CVSes before I found anyone with supplies).

Vaccination is awesome for you, since the flu sucks, but it’s also a public service.  The vaccine is 62% effective (which means people who get the vaccination are 62% less likely than those who don’t to have such a bad case of flu that they go to a hospital or a doctor’s office).  So you’re a long shot from guaranteed safe if you’re the only one that gets the shot.  That’s where the herd effect comes in.  The fewer people who are susceptible, the harder it is for the disease to spread.  But flu vaccination rates are lagging.

The more of us who get vaccinated, the safer the world becomes for the very old, the very young, and the immunocompromised (cancer meds, AIDS, etc), who may not be able to be vaccinated, and who are at much higher risk if they do get sick.  If you go out and get your shot, next time you see an adorable baby in the metro, you’ll be able to think proudly to yourself, “Fear not, tiny baby!  Not only am I keeping your attention occupied by playing peekaboo with you, but I’ve done my part to make this public space safe for you by having dead viruses shot under my skin!  All in a day’s work for your friendly neighborhood antibodies-maker!”


Oh, and after you go get your vaccination, and if you’re not so much into lollypops, I recommend the following history of epidemiology and/or medicine books: Microbe Hunters, The Ghost Map, The Demon in the Freezer, and The Emperor of All Maladies.

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  • Marquis

    I received my flu shot back in November at work. Now I hear they gave us the wrong one.

  • Dutifully got my vaccine and held my four year old down for his. I had the flu for ten days over Christmas, and he’s got it now. Husband, who never got around to getting vaccinated, still isn’t sick, even though he had the same exposure to his virus laden family as we did. He has a studly immune system.

    Sadly, vaccines are not super effective against highly variable diseases, and this has a big discouraging effect on vaccination rates. Everyone knows a bunch of someones who got a flu in spite of the vaccine.

    • deiseach

      Yeah, that’s the trouble – my own father got the flu vaccine a few years back and had a bad reaction to it, so much so that he’d have been better off not getting it.

      On the other hand, when the swine flu panic (remember that?) was going around, my sister and her family all went down with it and they were wretched, so I made a doctor’s appointment to get the jab – and guess what, I got the wretched thing about two days before I was due to be vaccinated.

      Argh! On balance, Leah is perfectly correct: the most recent flus seem to be much nastier, and I can attest that although I’ve had the flu before and come out okay, the swine flu was dreadful – really left me feeling weak and I could tell that if I’d been susceptible in that area, it would have hit my respiration badly enough to need a hospital visit.

      So go get vaccinated!

      • Except for the sheer duration of cough and fatigue, I wouldn’t categorize the flu we have/had as particularly bad. My longer duration was probably due to the double whammy immune compromisation of pregnancy and progesterone supplementation.

        I think flus are being perceived as getting worse because we’ve lost a lot of general knowledge about how to practically care for sick people. The first third of my flu was spent at my inlaws – I was too sick to express well what I needed (comfort and nutrition wise) and the extent of my mother in law’s nursing was to keep pushing me to go to the doctor and get an Ab shot! We spent the rest of the visit explaining that there was nothing a doctor could give me that was safe for the baby (easier than trying to explain why Ab shots won’t work on a virus) and she still didn’t believe us.

        The combination of a society that pushes people to keep working through illness, leaves them isolated when they’re deemed sick enough to not keep working, and places an undue importance on specialization in the care of the mildly sick individuals is one that promotes the spread and increased severity of communicable illnesses.

        • deiseach

          Possibly down to idiosyncratic reaction, or maybe just that I’m older now myself 🙂

          But I definitely felt that bout of flu was much worse than any I’d had before. Generally, getting the flu meant feverishness, muscle/joint pains and stuck in bed for a week, but then over and done with (and yes, I’ve worked through a bout before, to the point where at the end of my shift I nearly keeled over in a faint to my great surprise because I didn’t feel that bad).

          But this time, I wasn’t running a particularly high temperature, and I felt about as energetic and capable as a jellyfish stranded by the tide. And this weakness and general debility lingered on and lingered on for a good two-three weeks even when I was up and about.

          Also, I definitely felt it hard to breathe, and if I’d had any respiratory weaknesses I could well have seen myself ending up in hospital. It hit my sister and her family the same way – oppression on the chest and fevers and really weak and washed out.

          So maybe flus are getting worse in some ways, or maybe it’s just old age creeping up on me!

    • Kristen inDallas

      Yeah the annecdotal evidence is tough to resist. Every year that I’ve gotten vaccinated I’ve gotten the flu. And for the past 2 years I’ve skipped the shot and been healthy as can be (other than allergies, colds and the like). For me the yearly percentages don’t make much of an impact (62% less likely? I’m sure there are similar stats regarding some combination of handwashing and green veggies). Generally when I see them, they inform me about how likely Science! will be able to come up with an effective vaccine next year, but it seems like there are never any stats for the current strain until after its too late or I’ve already been exposed multiple times and my body has proven triumphant.

      I’m more intersted in the long-haul science. Given that the flu is very different from diseases like rubella or measels in that it can mutate to a new strain over the course of the year. Are we, as a population, effecting how quickly those mutations occur or what mutations are most likely to thrive by widespread use of the flu shot? If there is an effect, is it positive or negative? Will my immune system work better when I am an old lady if I allowed my body to naturally fight off viruses when I’m young and robust or if I got a flu shot every year for 60 years? Those are questions I don’t claim to have an answer to, but they are the questions I consider more when I’m debating whether or not to get a flu shot. (Disclaimer, I am one of those oddballs that tends not to put much of anything non-food into my body – I use tobasco to fight nasal congestion and Tea tree oil for a headache, so I am definately approaching this with some prejudice)

      • ACN

        The answer to all of your questions is ‘No’.

        • Kristen inDallas

          Funny, I thought the answer to all my questions was 42…

  • CarlC

    For reasons that the vaccination rates in general have gone down, you should look at The Panic Virus by Seth Mnookin. It’s a fascinating, and chilling, book.

  • grok87
  • Now you tell me. I feel the beginnings of flu today.

  • jenesaispas

    I think this is one of the few times you have linked to something sciency, but I didn’t need to click on it to understand what it meant. yay! 🙂

  • grok87

    Here’s the Source article for the 62%.
    aparently the vaccine is 55% effective against Influenza A and 70% effective against Influenza B. Influenza A is the really nasty one.

  • Ten of us in the family (two adults, eight children). We have all gotten our flu shots, and we do every year (for at least the last ten or twelve years that I can remember?). None of us has ever gotten the flu in all those years, with all of us out and about, at work and school and shopping, traveling, etc. So, I’m a big proponent of getting the shot!

  • I got the flu shot and two days later was so violently ill I was hospitalized. Nasty stuff that “vaccine” was.

  • Susan

    Thank you to everyone who got the shot. I have a child who became severely ill from flu complications twice (because of underlying medical issues). He (we) had quite a scare last year. The shot isn’t perfect and you can still get the flu from mutated forms of influenza, but it’s true that the more people who get the shot, the less “danger” there is to the vulnerable.

  • Erin

    I appreciate your perspective on this – in fact, it’s one I generally hold myself. But as a Catholic, I follow the Church’s lead in condoning vaccines derived from fetal stem cell products (cell lines from aborted babies). Many vaccines are no longer made with ethical alternatives like chicken eggs, etc, and from my research, current flu vaccines are all made with said products. So I’ve begun to refrain from seasonal vaccines such as the flu. These decisions are all the more difficult with more serious diseases, like measles, mumps, and rubella, for which there is no ethical alternative vaccine even available in this country. The commoditization of nascent human life creates more and weightier lose-lose situations, surrounded by sin, with each passing year (and here I’m thinking specifically of frozen embryos – they are in a limbo of existence from which there is no ethical answer, Catholic speaking. To destroy them is not ethical, nor is it ethical to implant them – a discussion I once saw in Mary Meets Dolly blog, I think). Anyway, what might be your perspective from this angle? With four young children, it is something with which I struggle – and feel a great deal of anger at being put in such a situation.

    • ACN

      You are considering not giving your children MMR?

      • Erin

        No, I still give them the MMR.

  • Erin

    Btw, just for clarity, the Catholic Church does not forbid any vaccinations, and Pontifical Academy recommendations allow for the use of unethically derived vaccines where no ethical versions are available, while the faithful must still call for ethical versions to be produced and available. But again, the point is that, spiritually, with an eye to eternity, such a situation is still lose-lose.

    • Darren

      Thanks for the info, Erin. I was skeptical, but it checks out: National Catholic Bioethics Center

    • Niemand

      I don’t know if this will make you feel any better or not, but the human cell lines used to make vaccines are just that: cell lines, not primary cells. So, taking all the worst assumptions about embryos and souls, you’re only benefiting from a murder that happened many years ago, not ongoing deaths. You’re not encouraging or benefiting any future abortions by using the vaccine.

      • Darren


        Yes, I was pleasantly surprised to find the NCBC raising essentially the same point.

        But, since I just have that type of sensibility…

        Assuming a fertilized ova has a soul, but instead of being destroyed that ova was transformed into an endlessly multiplying human cell line…

        But I am probably not helping.

        • Niemand

          How do you feel about HeLa cells?

          • Darren

            That’s the one.

            I think her family should get royalties (not legally required, but considering the massive good they have done, a nice guesture) and she should have a statue somewhere…

  • Thanks for this, Leah. I bang this drum with regularity, since I’m immunocompromised. Go herd immunity! I ued to have this argument with people I worked with. “Oh, why should I get a flu I never get the flu?” Because if you do get it, and come to work with it, like you will, then I could get it, and get really really super sick. All because of YOU.

  • I’m pro vaccine and herd immunity in general, but I admit I am a bit nervous about the flu vaccine since my son developed Type 1 diabetes a week after getting the shot. I don’t know that there was causation as well as correlation, but Type 1 is caused by an autoimmune reaction, and, well… now I’m worried about getting my other kids vaccinated.

    • ACN

      There is no evidence of any connection between diabetes and any vaccine of any kind.

      Don’t worry, get everyone vaccinated 🙂

      • There isn’t necessarily a causal link between my son and his flu shot, but Type 1 is caused by the autoimmune system destroying part of the pancreas. We don’t understand what triggers it yet.

        • Darren

          Last I heard it was suspected to be milk exposure prior to age 2. Don’t take my word for it, though.

          • According to the endocrinologists and diabetes educators at Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto it’s an autoimmune disorder that leads to destruction of the cells which make insulin. There may be genetic factors involved but Type 1 or Juvenile Diabetes is not generally a hereditary disease, unlike Type 2, which is both hereditary and linked to lifestyle problems.

          • Darren

            Yes, autoimmune attack on the Pancreatic cells triggered by _something_. Last info I heard was a _suspicion_ that the attack might be triggered to (cow) milk proteins in early life.

            My wife was covinced thus, at least, and so I felt no need to fact-check too awful much just so that I could fight with her about spending double the cost on goat’s milk instead of cow… 🙂

        • ACN

          I’m confused. I wasn’t debating you on the causes of type 1 diabetes; it is most likely an autoimmune response. I was only pointing out that there is no evidence that vaccination causes it, because there isn’t.

          Is your claim that “the flu shot triggered an autoimmune response that gave him type 1 diabetes”? That seems pretty farfetched to me, especially because if it is the case, we would expect to see epidemics of type 1 diabetes around flu season everywhere. And I don’t think we do.