For Immediate Release
September 28, 2010

KDHE Office of Communications
communications@kdheks.gov, 785-296-0461

Flu Vaccine: It's Time to Let Go of Your Excuses

An Op-Ed by Jason Eberhart-Phillips, MD
Kansas State Health Officer

People who turn down the flu vaccine year after year tend to rely on one or more of six common excuses to justify their decisions not to get immunized.

This year, as Kansas gears up to immunize more people than ever before against influenza, these excuses are all looking increasingly feeble.  Let’s examine each one in detail:

Excuse #1:  “I never get the flu, so I don’t need the vaccine.” If you’ve been living on this planet for more than a couple decades and you’ve never been infected with the influenza virus, you are a very rare individual. Congratulations!

Unfortunately, your past performance in avoiding this disease is no guarantee of future success. With no prior exposure to influenza and no artificial immunity from past immunizations, you are setting yourself up for a potentially serious encounter when the flu comes to your community in the months ahead.

Why take the risk of missing work or school, feeling miserable and possibly landing in the hospital, when you can avoid all that by simply rolling up your sleeve and getting the vaccine?

Excuse #2:  “I got the vaccine once, and I came down with the flu anyway. The vaccine doesn’t work.” Do you know for sure that you became infected with the flu that year? Many common respiratory infections masquerade as influenza, but none of these can be prevented with the flu vaccine.

Chances are you never had the flu that season, but there is a small possibility that you did. The vaccine doesn’t protect everybody, especially in the first two weeks after you get a dose, or if you are more than 65 years of age. But getting vaccinated definitely improves your odds against getting seriously ill or dying from the flu, regardless of your age.

This year, for the first time, there is a high-dose version of the flu vaccine for people over age 65 years of age. Clinical trials show that it induces a stronger immune response. So now you have a new option to consider if you’re old enough for it and you really believe that the regular vaccine didn’t protect you well in the past.

Excuse #3:  “I hear that sometimes people get the flu from the vaccine.” This is utter nonsense, like alligators in the sewers. Give it up. The vaccine stimulates your body’s immune system to protect you against flu viruses, and sometimes causes a brief and very mild flu-like reaction. But it does not cause the disease itself.

Excuse #4:  “I hear that the vaccine causes serious side effects. I’d rather take my chances with the disease than risk harm from the vaccine.” After tens of billions of doses have been given to people throughout the world for many decades there is ample proof that flu vaccines are very safe.

Sure enough, bad things like serious neurological events, heart attacks and car accidents do happen occasionally to people recently immunized against the flu. But these same rare occurrences happen at roughly the same frequency to people who were not recently immunized. Such unfortunate events appear to be only coincidental with immunization.

Even if there is a link between flu vaccination and certain alleged side effects, the chances of serious harm from getting the vaccine are hundreds or thousands of times lower than the chances of harm that may come from getting infected if you are not immunized.

Excuse #5:  “I don’t like shots.” Who does? But a little needle stick once a year sure beats several days of being sick in bed – or worse.

Still, if you’re seriously phobic about needles and you’re between two and 49 years of age, ask your health provider about the nasal spray vaccine. It’s just as safe and just as effective as the injection, and it may be the right vaccine for you.

Excuse #6:  “I don’t think I’m in a high-risk group. I don’t want to take vaccine away from people who really need it.” A few years ago this altruistic excuse had a ring of truth.

But this year there will be plenty of vaccine for everyone. And for the first time almost everyone in America over the age of six months is recommended by public health authorities to get the vaccine, regardless of your underlying health.

Unless you are one of the rare people over six months of age who has a genuine medical reason not to be immunized, there is no good reason this year not to get the flu vaccine.

So go ahead. Get the flu vaccine now from your doctor, your local health department or your community pharmacy.

You know it’s the right thing to do to protect yourself, your family and your community from a potentially serious infection. This year you haven’t got any more excuses!

Dr. Eberhart-Phillips is the Kansas State Health Officer and Director of Health in the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. He can be reached at jeberhart-phillips@kdheks.gov. Go to his blog at: www.kdheks.gov/blogs/dr_jasons_blogs.htm.