Flu Shots


It’s flu season again and I hope you will be lining up soon for your flu shots. I was an occupational health nurse towards the end of my career and have a rather strong opinion about them, so bear with me. During these years I gave thousands of flu shots and heard every excuse under the sun about why they’re not safe.

  1. The government puts microchips in them for mind control (seriously!)
  2. I don’t get the flu.
  3. My mother (sister, uncle, friend, the dog) says not to.
  4. You get the flu from the flu shot.
  5. My mother says she got the flu from the flu shot.
  6. I got really ill once after a flu shot
  7. I’d rather take my chances with the flu.
  8. I had a shot and got the flu anyway.
  9. I’ve already had the flu.
  10. I’m afraid of needles.
  11. I’m allergic to the flu shot.

I’ve heard them all and more.

The most important reason to get a flu shot in my opinion is to increase herd immunity and mitigate the spread of the virus; to stop it in its tracks. The fewer people who have the disease the better.

The second most important reason is to protect those who can’t get a flu shot or are so immunocompromized that they are at greater risk to catch the flu. In other words, you may feel just fine, but if you are carrying it, you can still give the virus to your lovely old gran who could die from it.


The third reason of course is the continuance and maintenance of your good health, and prevention of potentially serious illness. I’ve had a shot annually for years and years and rarely even get a cold. My immune system is primed and ready for battle.

It is particularly important this year to get a flu shot because last year’s H1N1 immunization didn’t take particularly well for middle-aged folks. The young and the old responded better.

Misconceptions about the flu shot.
1.      Microchips-come on! I have heard this whopper from many, many people. It doesn’t warrant discussion.

2.      “I don’t get the flu”-maybe so, but a healthy immune system isn’t a guarantee that you won’t get sick in the future,or that you won't be a carrier, so please give a thought to others. Remember it’s not just about you.

3.      “I get the flu from the flu shot”. Nope. You won’t. The flu virus is grown in eggs and then killed. You are given dead virus- it’s extremely unlikely some of the virus survived and will infect you. It is important to remember that flu shots are given in the flu season when people head inside and mill about together giving each other germs. By the time flu shots are available fall viruses have already started in earnest. By the time you get your shot you very likely have come in contact with one of these pesky viruses and are starting to feel the symptoms . It’s a coincidence.

4.      “My mother swears she got the flu from a flu shot” Nope. She didn’t.

5.      “I became really ill after the flu shot.” 

Some people do feel uncomfortable after the flu shot but it’s not because they’ve caught the flu. The purpose of immunization is to introduce the body to viruses by way of dead antigens that “look like” the live ones and can’t harm you. Antigens are molecules that attach to antibodies.


The body’s immune system becomes primed to these antigens by sending disease fighting cells to the site of the shot and forming antibodies. Part of the body’s immune-fighting reaction is to raise your body temperature a little to kill the fakes, and to rush blood cells to the site of the injection. This will cause some soreness at the site. All of this activity is your body’s way of preparing, so that when it “sees” the ‘real’ live viruses, it will be primed to fight. Believe me, getting some discomfort from a flu shot is a whole lot better than getting the flu.

You can mitigate this reaction by taking Tylenol immediately after the shot and repeat when necessary. Don’t overdo it though; too much Tylenol has its own serious side effects. Usually the dose of Tylenol is 2 tabs 3-4 times per day.

6.      I’d rather take my chances with the flu.” Why take a chance? It just doesn’t make sense. You already have enough to contend with. Recovering from stroke takes all of one’s energy. You don’t want to waste it fighting off a major flu.And a respiratory flu can make you really sick.

7.      “I’ve had the flu shot and got the flu anyway”.
There are lots and lots of viruses out there. Doctors pick the two or three main ones that seem to be causing the most illness around the world. There is a little guess work involved but it’s a educated guesswork. Sometimes they goof. Viruses can peter out or mutate by the time the vaccine is prepared. But doctors get it right most of the time. If you’ve had a flu shot and you still get a case of full blown flu, you’ve probably caught something else. Occasionally too, if a virus is particularly virulent, you may need a booster for complete protection. This is what happened this year with the H1N1 for some middle-years folks, and why it’s included in this years flu shot. It’s still around and not everyone is completely immunized.

8.      “I’ve already had the flu.” Maybe; but again there are many, many viruses out there. You may not have had the most serious flu out there this year. Remember too that the flu shot protects you from respiratory flu, not gastric flu. So you may have had a gastric flu and think you’re immune from the deadlier respiratory flus.

9.      “I’m afraid of needles.”

 Okay, this is a legitimate concern and you will have to decide what you can bear. I have seen big tough police officers terrified of a needle. They get behind the screen out of public view and go all pale and trembley. But they go through it anyway because they work in the public domain. Police officers are not only more exposed to viruses, but by the same token, can easily expose others; many who may be extra vulnerable to illness. To me this epitomizes bravery; conquering your own fears for the good of others.

Some people have an uncontrollable reaction when they get a needle and faint dead away. They can’t help it. It’s an involuntary vaso-vagal reaction. We catch them though, and give them an extra sticker and lots of praise, because they too have overcome their fear for the sake of others. These folks are usually fine in a few minutes. It’s one of the reasons why you’re asked to wait 10 minutes or so after getting a flu shot.

10.  There are two things to be concerned about with flu shots if you suffer from allergies. One is an egg allergy because the virus is grown in eggs. Allergy though doesn’t mean you dislike eggs or they upset your stomach, it means you get an allergic reaction to them like hives. This should be verified by a doctor by a skin test because like all allergies, it can be dangerous. And the other is Timerosol, the preservative most vaccines are preserved in. So if you were okay with your childhood vaccines you’ll probably be okay with the flu shot too.

There have been extremely rare incidences of Gullain Barre disease after a getting a flu shot, but the incidence of death or serious illness if you don’t get one, is many, many, many times higher. 

So get your flu shot and stay healthy this winter! And wash, wash, wash your hands and if you do get sick, sneeze into your sleeve if you are in public, or better yet, stay home and get better.

Sermon ended.

Jan 14/2011

As many viral outbreaks often are, the present 'flunami' was unexpected by the medical community here in Canada despite their best efforts of prognostication. Viruses are by nature unpredictable, therefore getting maximum protection is the best way to protect yourself. H1N1 appears not to have raised it's ugly head this year but rather an unruly relative, H3N2, is now running rampant. Hospital emergency rooms here in Toronto are jammed with flu sufferers as are those in parts of Manitoba and Quebec. The alarming thing about H3N2 is that it disproportionately affects the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, making it especially dangerous for us strokies.

Remember that viruses, unlike bacteria, have a very tough and impenetrable cellular wall which antibiotics can't penetrate, so vaccination is your only defense.

Unfortunately because H1N1 didn't create as big a problem as anticipated (because more people were immunized?), people have become turned off flu shots and the rate of vaccination of 90% of the public that is needed to achieve herd immunity has not nearly been achieved. So run (or as in my case, limp quickly), don't walk to your doctor or health clinic for your shot if you haven't already done so. It's not too late.

Check your local Public Health office for listings of clinic times. In Toronto click on 
http://www.toronto.ca/health/flu/flu_clinics.htm.  Shots are free.

Sept 12/2011