The Limits of Individualism: Why You Need to Get a Flu Shot

Before I get into this, everyone should check out PalMD’s post on flu–it’s a neat little post. One of the reasons that people don’t get flu shots is that we haven’t done a good job of explaining to people why they need the vaccine. Yes, it does significantly lower the risk of catching the flu (last I heard, the CDC estimated a 62% reduction, though these numbers are imprecise and bounce around). But what vaccination really does, just like coughing into your elbow and WASHING YOUR DAMN HANDS!, is protect other people from you.

Not only are there people who can’t take the vaccine, but the elderly and immunocompromised, even with vaccination, still have a hard time of it (think of it this way: if you’re training a guard dog, would you rather train a mastiff or a Pomeranian? A weak immune system can only do so much). Most importantly though, we need to lower the rate of infection among the ‘spreaders’–those who are coming in contact with lots of people and are healthy enough to bull their way through the initial symptoms instead of staying home (thereby infecting more people).

According to polling data, about half of us don’t think about the flu vaccine this way. Instead, they are only likely to get vaccinated once an outbreak starts, and, by then, the group effect of vaccination is limited. This requires lowering the barriers to getting the shot (cost and availability), as well as campaigns to convince people to think differently about influenza.

In other words, we need to ask not ‘how do I protect myself?’, but ‘how do I protect other people?’

So please help the rest of us and get your flu shot–better late than never (and next year, how about getting it in October?).

An aside: Ignoring people who have inchoate fears about the safety of the flu vaccine for adults, some people occasionally have a mild adverse reaction (I get mine yearly and have had this happen once), which typically involves very short term crudiness (slight temperature elevation and mild fatigue for a few hours–it wears off quickly as the vaccine, unlike a fully, functional virus, can’t replicate). If that’s why you don’t want to get the vaccine (though you should speak with your doctor about what happened), consider this: if you were hit that hard by the vaccine, just think how awful the real live virus would be.

This entry was posted in Framing, Influenza, Public Health, Vaccination. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Limits of Individualism: Why You Need to Get a Flu Shot

  1. george.w says:

    Co-worker (who has life-threatening chronic respiratory problems of some kind): “I didn’t get one because I don’t believe in shots.”

    * headdesk *

  2. Julie Stahlhut says:

    I got that mild six-hour fatigued, achy, and warm feeling after my first five or six flu shots. I’d simply plan to get the shot at the end of the day, and then spend the evening bundled up on the couch reading or watching TV. By the next morning, the reaction was invariably over except for a slightly sore arm. But even more interesting: I haven’t had that reaction in 10 or 15 years. Either the flu shots are less irritating now, or else my immune system has been well-trained over the years to handle flu shots. Anyway, on a scale where 10 is the actual flu, I always considered the vaccine reaction to be a maximum of 0.001. Since I still remember all too vividly the two miserable bouts with flu that I had in my teens, getting the vaccine is second nature to me now.

  3. Christine says:

    I used to not get one because it made me feel so awful (what teenager wants to give up a weekend for the sake of a vaccine?). But as soon as I felt at all as if I might actually have gotten ill (slight achiness during flu season) I started getting the shot regularly, because I didn’t want to give it to someone else.

    My reaction came largely from having a needle stuck into me though – I reacted similarly to any vaccination and to having blood drawn. Trying to avoid having needles stuck in me for a couple of years seems to have helped though. These days I’m not stuck in bed at all after a flu shot.

  4. Scott says:

    Lately I have been reading, on FaceBook and other sources, inaccurate and misleading articles and blog posts criticizing flu immunizations. Most of the ‘science’ cited in them is easily refuted by a bit of critical thinking. What I have not seen, until stumbling across this piece, is a cogent argument about the societal obligation we have to each other to prevent infectious disease. I think this piece neatly sums it up – we do not immunize to help just ourselves, we immunize to help each other.

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