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A flu shot protects a lot more than yourself

Posted on Dec. 9, 2015 ( comments)
Flu shot vaccine pregnant belly

Before my second daughter was born, I was drafting the Facebook announcement to post after her birth.

“New baby is here. We’re all happy and healthy and will start taking visitors next week. Bring your vaccination records. Because #fluseason.”

Part of our prep for new baby also included texting our nearest family members and friends to remind them to get flu and whooping cough vaccines.

It isn’t new-mom paranoia prompting these requests. I want everyone in my household to be as healthy as possible. My husband and I quickly learned after having our first child in 2012 that bringing home a baby can also be the start of bringing home a steady stream of germs and viruses.

Apart from personal experiences — such as the three times my husband was out of commission with the flu last year — the facts are hard to argue with. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), millions of people get sick with the flu each year, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized and thousands die.

Not surprisingly, our request that everyone get their flu shot has been met with some criticism. Despite research and evidence that vaccines are safe and effective ways to prevent the spread of disease, vaccines remain a controversial topic for some.

Here are answers to some of the most common questions and criticisms I’ve heard.

“The flu shot isn’t 100 percent effective in protecting against the flu.”

You’re right. And its effectiveness can vary from season to season, says the CDC. Flu viruses are constantly changing, so each year the vaccine is updated based on which influenza viruses are making people sick.

The CDC also conducts studies each year to determine how well the flu vaccine protects against flu, and the most recent research shows the vaccine can reduce the risk of flu by about 50–60 percent among the overall population.

It’s not bulletproof, but the odds are in favor of prevention. If you had a 50–60 percent chance of winning the lottery, you’d buy a ticket, am I right?

“I’ll take my chances and skip the vaccine. Worst case scenario, I’ll miss a day of work.”

Have you had the flu? It’s miserable. What’s worse than having the flu? Having a family member with the flu. It can be a major setback for any household. Plus, it puts others in the household (and your community) at risk for becoming sick.

If you haven’t been vaccinated and you’re exposed to the flu virus, you won’t know for a day or two that you’re sick, but you’ll be infectious during that time. So that means you’re exposing people around you — family, friends, coworkers — to the flu.

This may not seem like a big deal if everyone you know has had the vaccine. But for the fragile among us (read: new babies), the illnesses we vaccinate against, including flu, can be life threatening.

During last year’s flu season, 157 people died in Washington of laboratory-confirmed influenza, including one child, according to the Washington State Department of Health. And across the United States, more than 140 children died of flu or flu-related complications.

“Last time I got the flu shot I also got the flu.”

This is one of the biggest misconceptions around the flu vaccine. If you talk to any doctor, he will tell you contracting the flu on the heels of a vaccine is coincidental.

“Given how many respiratory viruses circulate during the winter months, it is not surprising that sometimes after receiving the flu vaccine, a person will come down with one of these viruses,” says Bruce Oriel, MD, a pediatrician at Mary Bridge Pediatrics Union Avenue.

The vaccine doesn’t give you the flu — it exposes your immune system to proteins from the virus to get your immune system ready to fight the flu, should you be exposed. It’s possible to get a fever after receiving a vaccine, but this just means your immune system is being activated.

“It is not the vaccine causing the illness,” Dr. Oriel says. “People can get a fever from any vaccine. This does not mean it has caused illness.”

Community immunity matters. Our immune systems benefit from the boost we get from the flu vaccine. By asking people in my family to protect themselves against the flu, I’m also asking them to protect the people around them — especially my new baby.

Where to get your flu shot

You can get your flu shot by making an appointment with your primary care or pediatric provider, visiting a pharmacy that offers the vaccine or visiting one of MultiCare’s walk-in clinics.

Pharmacies that offer the flu shot typically accept most forms of insurance, but be sure to let your primary care doctor know you received your flu shot so it can be added to your record.

MultiCare Health System offers convenient walk-in options:

MultiCare Immunization Clinic at South Hill Mall
3500 S. Meridian, Puyallup
(in the MultiCare Health Kiosk next to Old Country Buffet)

This clinic offers free and low-cost immunizations to children and adults. No appointments are necessary. The kiosk is open 5 days a week to provide convenient access to immunization services:

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 10:30am–5pm
Every second Saturday, 11:30am–5pm

Tuesday-Friday, 10:30am–5pm
Every other Saturday, 11:30am–5pm

MultiCare Mary Bridge Mobile Immunization Clinic
The MultiCare Mary Bridge Mobile Immunization Clinic provides free immunizations to all children from birth through 18 years of age. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department maintains a schedule of where the Mobile Immunization Clinic will be each month. For more information about the Mobile Immunization Clinic, call 253-403-1767 or 800-552-1419.

MultiCare Express Clinic in Lakewood
5700 100th St SW, Suite 100, Lakewood
(inside Rite Aid)

Monday-Friday 9am–8pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am–6pm

MultiCare Express at the Lakewood Rite Aid provides fast, convenient medical care for a wide range of minor conditions, plus vaccinations, sports physicals and more for adults and kids 2 years and older. No appointment needed.

Note: Vaccines are for patients 19 years and older.

About The Author

Jen Rittenhouse Jen Rittenhouse
Jen Rittenhouse is the social media manager for MultiCare and Mary Bridge Children's Hospital. She writes stories that connect people with hospitals, health care and each other. You can reach her at [email protected].
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