I was never one to get a flu shot, or any shot for that matter, if I could help it...until I experienced what cold and flu season could really be like for someone who's immune system isn't up to par.
Sure, my kids bring home their fair share of germs. In fact, I have one home sick today with a stomach bug. But I put a lot of stock into the building of natural immunity, starting with breastfeeding and continuing with healthy lifestyles and natural remedies, as needed, though there are certain times when pharmaceuticals are required. Overall, we're a healthy family focused on prevention.
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For the past 4 years after that aforementioned awful cold and flu season, I am one of the people in line at the local pharmacy to get my annual flu shot. What happened that winter?
Five years ago, I had just started a part-time job as a breastfeeding counselor at a local WIC clinic. I only worked a day a week, but apparently I caught every germ carried into that place! I spent months sick, having had Influenza A twice, another influenza strain, and secondary tonsillitis and sinus infections over and over. My children, who have never had a flu shot, including my breastfed son at the time, dealt with their usual couple bouts of common childhood illnesses, but then got better. I stayed sick until May.
I later learned that I have hypertrophic tonsils, meaning they are way larger than they should be and therefore are much more prone to infection, upwards of 5 times a year on average. Technically, I have chronic tonsilitis, meaning that any time I get run down and tired, I get a sore throat flare. I also have a deviated septum in my nose, so I am doubly prone to sinus infections. Getting the flu shot greatly reduces the severity of my personal cold and flu season, allowing me to enjoy winter.
But because my children are not prone to secondary infections, and have generally healthy immunity, I don't have them vaccinated.
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Vaccinating against influenza, or not, is a personal decision. There is no right answer. In either case, however, it's important to make an informed decision:
Pros of the Flu Shot:
- Getting the flu can be dangerous for some groups of people - the very young, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with certain chronic conditions or lowered immune systems - who are more likely to develop secondary infections, so the flu shot is safer for these priority populations.
- The flu shot doesn't infect you with influenza. The vaccine contains modified viruses of the selected influenza strains that aren't able to cause an active infection.
- People who are vaccinated are less likely to get sick, or to get as sick, as those who don't get the annual flu shot. Flu vaccines "train" the immune system on how to respond to the influenza virus.
- Flu protection is short term, because the influenza strains are constantly changing. Getting an annual flu shot is formulated to be the best protection against the strains most likely to be encountered during the upcoming cold and flu season.
- A shot in the arm hurts less than a week of being achy and sick.
- If you don't want a shot, there is a nasal spray available.
- Many employers now offer annual flu shots for free as a wellness incentive to their employees.
Cons of the Flu Shot:
- Getting the flu, for a healthy person, builds up a stronger immunity than the flu shot.
- The flu shot is no guarantee. You can still get the flu whose strains are in this year's vaccination, as well as other strains that your body hasn't built an immunity up against. Plus, protection isn't immediate -- it takes about 2 weeks for your immune system to have the full benefit of the vaccine.
- Shots hurt, and some people develop a non-allergic reaction to the injection like soreness near the injection site, aching in the arm, and a low-grade fever for a day or two after the shot.
- Vaccinations aren't free, and depending on your health insurance coverage, it can be a pinch to your bank account.
- Allergic reactions to the flu shot are possible, especially if you have a life-threatening reaction to eggs.
- There is a small amount of mercury added to the flu shot to serve as a preservative. While the amount in the vaccine is considered safe, exposure to mercury overall is linked to certain nervous system disorders.
- Babies younger than 6 months cannot get the flu shot, anyway.