This morning, as I drove over to my HMO for an appointment in their first four-hour flu shot clinic of 2014, I half expected to be one of just a handful of people there, an admittedly pessimistic presumption based on the increased visibility of the anti-vaccination “Back to the Middle Ages!/Bring out your dead!” crowd in the last several months, with some sources believing — incorrectly as it turns out — that they were increasingly present in suburban liberal enclaves, which phrase happens to be one of the accepted definitions of the nearby town my HMO is in. Imagine my delight at seeing the car park full to brimming — and it was all for vaccination since they only do urgent care appointments on Saturdays. There were at least a hundred people outside and inside, about half children and half adults, and this in the first hour of the first of about two dozen clinics scheduled.
They organise these events with great efficiency, so I was in and out in about six minutes. I mentioned to the nurse that I was happy to see so many people there despite the anti-vaccination fad. She said she was glad, too. She had learned early why community immunity was a good thing and said she was therefore surprised to hear many students in nursing school question why vaccinations were important at all. I said, “Because Jenny McCarthy does not have a medical degree except maybe in her fevered imagination, and we live in the 21st century.”
I’ve been getting flu vaccine since 2002, a few years after I ended up in hospital over Christmas week with double lobe viral pneumonia — the worst kind, and so bad that the nurses doubted I’d survive my first night in hospital — brought on in my weakened state after I was hit with a particular virulent strain of influenza. Back then, I tended to get sick as a dog most winters, often out of work anywhere from ten days to two weeks. Such winters are a thing of the past for me. My own anecdotal evidence is that I haven’t had flu since 2002; hardly statistically significant, but plenty good enough for me. This year’s US national vaccine is quadrivalent for the first time, protecting against the four most likely strains instead of just three.
On the topic of people speaking out of their arses on medical topics, on “This American Life” a few weeks ago, Ira Glass mentioned another podcast (auto-play audio) called “The Gist”. The third “Gist” excerpt he presented was about George Stephanopoulos unbelievably directing this bit of chowderheadedness at the director of the Centers for Disease Control: “Dr. Friedan, as you know, a lot of anxiety here in the United States about the spread of Ebola, whether we’re taking an unnecessary risk. A tweet that Donald Trump put out just the other day, he said that the US must immediately stop all flights from Ebola-infected countries or the plague will start and spread inside our borders. Act fast. How do you respond to that?”
Host Mike Pesca’s ‘talk show karaoke’ that follows, where he provides the unmuddled truthful answer that ought to have been given, is splendid. At the end of the segment, Glass said, “If words really were magic, in all fairness, Donald Trump would vanish from the Earth in a puff of smoke after that.” Ah, well. A boy can dream, can’t he?
Shortly after your posting of this item, I saw a program on PBS about vaccinations and the recent trend toward avoiding them. Of particular emphasis was a measles outbreak – I don’t recall where, but I think it was somewhere in the northeast. People who avoid vaccinations are actually depending on people who do get vaccinations to defend them from disease. Studies suggest that when about 10-15% of the population in an area fail to vaccinate, there is a greatly increased chance of an outbreak of the disease in question. Now, it does turn out that vaccinations can trigger seizures in some people who suffer from epilepsy; but the vaccination is not the cause of the seizures. Those persons would get them anyway, sooner or later, from some other trigger event.
I recently had an updated tetanus shot, the first I’ve had since the 1950’s. Ouch! Bigger needle than I expected.
Because of those large caliber needles, I’ve been avoiding flu shots since 1967. I don’t think I’ve ever had the flu, but I did catch something similar called “valley fever” that went around the So Cal area after the 1994 earthquake. It was supposedly caused by the dust that was launched into the air by the earth movement. Maybe this year I’ll get a flu shot. Hmmm…
The needle I had last Saturday couldn’t have been any bigger than, say, a rhinoceros horn. Just kidding — it was actually pretty insubstantial, certainly much smaller than the dentist’s Novocain needle. More like one of those tiny toy sewing kit needles that I can never thread.
I decided to start getting the vaccine after getting flu once more in 2001. It wasn’t nearly as bad as my hospitalising experience in 1997, but that next flu made me ponder the previous one more seriously, and I finally came to the conclusion that the influenza and pneumonia combination, if repeated, could well kill me. Most of the time when someone dies “of flu”, it’s actually complications of influenza: The opportunistic follow-on pneumonia is the black-hooded villain that most often deals the coup de grâce.
I remember reading about that valley fever lung fungus and just looked up the name, which is Coccidioidomycosis. Yeesh. Isn’t fungus on the outside of the body bad enough?
Thanks for the heads-up on the PBS programme — I hadn’t heard of it, but just found it was the 10 September episode of Horizon’s US partner, NOVA, called “Vaccines: Calling the Shots”, which I’ll be watching this weekend.
Here’s a big…
As a result of your post, I actually got a flu shot this year, the first since 1967. It was a tiny injection with a tiny needle and I actually did not feel a thing. What a difference from the old days! The LVN said, as a joke: “Today you can get two for the price of one.” I was tempted. (Perhaps I should explain that the flu shot was free.)
I commute on public transportation each day. The first year I switched to the subway, I didn’t get a flu shot, but did get the flu and was hit so hard I was home for six days. It took me another 2 weeks to feel strong enough to get back to to the gym. I learned my lesson and started getting the shot and stayed healthy when others around me fell ill. That was 20 years ago…in all those years, I’ve only had the flu one other time and it was the year that multiple virulent strains hit the east coast. I was in Austin for SXSW and came home with strep and the flu…
I also got a pneumonia shot two years ago along with the flu shot. Don’t know if that is something that you have to get every year or not.
I don’t understand this aversion to getting a shot either. I mean we have erradicated polio and measles and all kinds of yuck !
But “viral pnuemonia “? Pretty scary ! First time I’ve heard of it.
My mom runs on only one diaphram, so now another winter thing I’ll have to worry about her picking up !!!