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Jerry Davich: First-ever flu shot painless, but will it work?

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Updated: December 14, 2013 6:27AM



Less than 10 minutes.

That’s how long it took to get my first-ever flu shot on Tuesday morning at a CVS Pharmacy in Valparaiso. This included filling out my paperwork, double-checking my insurance information and taking a fast photo of the pharmacist administering the shot into my upper arm muscle.

By the time I asked a couple of quick questions — Am I too late to do this? Will it make me sick? — CVS pharmacist Natalie Gordon already injected the shot and slapped a Band-aid on my arm. It turns out it was good timing on my part, she replied.

“I always recommend getting a flu shot at least two weeks before Thanksgiving, the day when you get together with a lot of family members in a confined space and everybody is spreading germs,” Gordon smartly told me.

Last month, I asked the loaded question: Is getting a flu shot in your plans, as health officials insist to most Hoosiers? I confessed that I had never received a flu shot and reader feedback was polarizing and passionate, as expected regarding any kind of vaccine issue.

“Your column will bring out all the anti-vaccine nutcases,” said Bill Finik of Valparaiso, reflecting similar responses from many other readers.

“Also, just think about your speaking schedule,” he pointed out, something I didn’t consider. “Think about passing along the flu virus to your audience and, heaven forbid, one or more people get seriously ill.”

Other readers also angrily derided me for my decision to avoid getting a flu shot, citing public safety issues, especially considering my occupation and public schedule.

“You have the perfect right not to get a flu shot, but don’t contaminate me or any other public place by not doing so,” said Alan from Crown Point. “It’s not necessarily only about you but everybody else you may spread that virus to.”

Of course I also heard from vaccine critics who applauded my choice, insisting the stupidity of voluntarily injecting “poisons” into our body.

After careful consideration of both stances, lasting about two minutes, I figured I’d get the shot and see if it keeps me healthier than in years past. Consider me your flu-shot guinea pig regarding this issue and I’ll be sure to keep you updated with its effectiveness, or not.

“Serious side effects are possible, but are very rare,” stated an informational brochure I was given afterward. “Inactivated flu vaccine does not contain live flu virus so getting flu from this vaccine is not possible.”

However, it takes two weeks for our bodies to build an immunity so, if you do get sick after receiving a shot, you’re just unlucky, I’m told.

With flu season running through March — and predictions of an early start similar to last year — now is the time to consider if a flu shot is for you or not. My shot didn’t cost me a dime, not even a co-payment, with my health insurance pending because it’s covered by most policies.

Otherwise, the shot ranges from $31.99, for the standard shot, to $49.99 for a high-dose vaccine, typically for patients ages 65 and older.

For the record, and to preempt any more back-lash on my decision, I feel the flu shot is great for the masses but typically not for me. It’s not that I’m strictly “anti-vaccine.” It’s simply that I’ve been doing OK without one up until now.

Still, in the spirit of firsthand journalism, I wanted to give it a try. My experiment is not to be interpreted as didactic as much as descriptive. And it’s certainly not a prescription to do the same, but an observation to learn from. Period.

I also read a new study in JAMA, Journal of the American Medical Association, suggesting that getting the flu shot is beneficial for more than just preventing the flu.

“We found there was a 36 percent risk reduction overall for getting a cardiac event in those who were vaccinated compared with those who did not get the vaccine,” the report stated. “We also found that those who had a heart attack had even more benefit. So in the higher-risk patients, the flu vaccine gave more benefit.”

In response to a question from JAMA, Dr. Jacob Udell of the University of Toronto in Canada replied: “For the skeptics out there, I’d note that we now have yet another reason why receiving influenza vaccine might be a beneficial thing to do.”

This news didn’t tip the scale for me, but I found it to be an intriguing personal sidebar to a public safety topic.

Each year, up to 220,000 Americans are hospitalized from influenza and up to 30,000 patients die from its complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The fact that at least 30,000 people die each year is enough for me,” Finik said, voicing a stream of commonsense in a sea of rhetoric.

To be honest, this fatality figure doesn’t faze me much, but then again I’m not a prime candidate (yet) to die from complications of influenza. With age comes aging attempts to somewhat desperately cling to whatever life preservers come floating by.

In my younger days, I would scoff at even the notion of getting a flu shot because, as we all know, youth is the best vaccine against infectious commonsense.

Connect with Jerry via email, at jdavich@post-trib.com, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.



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