GratiTuesday: Flu Vaccinations

The last time I had the flu was over 15 years ago. I experienced a combination of feeling like I was going to die… and thinking that dying might be a better alternative to how horrible I felt. After going through that pain and misery, I swore that I would never miss getting my flu shot again… and I haven’t.

I was shocked to read recently the over 80,000 Americans died of flu last winter… and that was a “normal” – although severe – flu season. A vast majority of those deaths – over 90 percent – were people over 65.

According to a 2015 NPR-Truven Health Analytics Health Poll, 62 percent of people either had been or intended to be vaccinated for the flu that year. Those who didn’t plan to be immunized cited a variety of reasons, including:

• 48 percent believed that a flu shot was unnecessary for them
• 16 percent were concerned about side effects or risks
• 14 percent worried that the vaccine could infect them with the flu
• 8 percent believed that the vaccination was ineffective

Each February, vaccine manufacturers make their best guess about what strains of flu will be most prevalent the following winter. Because of this, the vaccines that are shipped out in September aren’t perfect. They have ranged from a high of 60 percent effective (in 2010-11) to a low of 19 percent (2014-15). But even imperfect vaccines are better than none at all. The strains identified back in February may not be 100 percent accurate but getting vaccinated could still lessen the impact of the influenza that infects you or a loved one.

Last year, flu-related complications sent about 200,000 people to the hospital. I’m not sure how many of these people had been vaccinated but my guess is the percentage is low. Studies have shown that flu vaccinations reduce children’s risk of pediatric intensive care unit admission by 74 percent, and adults of all ages by 71 percent.

It didn’t hurt a bit!

If you or your loved one is among the almost 40 percent of those who are reluctant to get vaccinated, I hope you will reconsider. Even if the flu has never made you particularly ill, it is possible to pass it on to someone who could experience much more severe symptoms. I’ve had those symptoms. I would be most grateful never to have them again.

Author: RetirementallyChallenged.com

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

80 thoughts on “GratiTuesday: Flu Vaccinations”

    1. The few times I have gotten the flu I would say that my immune system was in good shape but the strain was just too much for me, I guess. There is something called Herd Immunity which is the protection from infectious disease that occurs when a large percentage of the population is vaccinated. Come join the herd! 🙂

  1. I always get the annual flu shot. AND I always still get the flu. I just convince myself that my flu would be worse without the shot and I don’t want to go there.

  2. I may be jinxing myself but I have never gotten the shot, even when I worked in medical offices, and I have not gotten the flu. I hear what you are saying about being a carrier, and I agree, but since I work from home and my outside contact is limited, I’m thinking my chances of getting sick are not as high as others.

    1. My husband and I rarely get sick since we’ve retired, but we still get colds now and then. It’s so easy to touch something (like a shopping cart in the grocery store) and inadvertently rub your eye. Boom, you’ve been infected. I was so sick that time from the flu that I never, ever, want to feel that again. Even breathing hurt.

  3. Got mine on September 15th, so officially covered as of Saturday. I’ve been getting flu shots as long as I can remember. I worried last year the more I heard of deaths and the E.R.s were packed full of people with symptoms and in a few hospitals here in Michigan they had to open up conference rooms as they had so many flu victims and they wanted them out of the main area of the E.R. to not contaminate others. Even though I work from home, I never miss getting it … like you said, one trip to the grocery store, and you accidentally touch your nose, or rub your eyes – boom you are infected. Better to be safe than sorry.

    1. I’m glad to know that you are protecting yourself. I just got my shot so I guess I need to be extra careful for a couple of weeks. Last year was so bad… I hope this year is better but I guess we don’t know until it’s too late. Yes… better safe than sorry.

      1. I take Vitamin C in the Winter too – not too much of it as it’s bad for you … just 500 mg every other day and I eat a lot of clementines as well. When I worked on site, I did 1,000 mg of Vitamin C a day as my mom was on a lot of different meds and did not like to take cold medication, so I tried very hard not to get sick and transfer it to her. My neighbor had shingles about 5 years ago – she got it in her scalp first, then into her eye. I was not old enough to go get a shingles shot without a prescription so I asked my allergist for one and got it … she never saw clearly out of her one eye after the bout with shingles and I know it is not contagious, but seeing what she went through and I had chicken pox as a child, so I did it. Now they have a stronger, more effective shingles shot, so I’m thinking about getting that instead – it is recommended to do this. Right now I wrestle with getting a Hepatitis A shot. When Kate Crimmins wrote her post on food recently, I told her I don’t go out to eat because Michigan has a Hep A outbreak – 26 people have died, all from eating restaurant food, where food handlers are not washing their hands. We have had countless outbreaks – not everyone dies from Hep A as it depends on your immune system, and certain factors, but it is very scary. These are not small mom and pop restaurants, but large chain restaurants. Always have something to worry about unfortunately.

        1. Yikes! It almost makes me want to stay at home forever. I’m anxious to get the new shingles vaccine too. I asked the nurse about it when I got my flu shot and she said they run out of it as fast as they get it in. I’ve had shingles… that’s another pain I never want to have again.

          1. My friend had it and had been wait-listed for it just like you. I don’t know if she has had shingles which I know is very painful, not just from the account by my neighbor, but others I’ve known you had it. She gets hives sometimes that start for no reason – stress may be a trigger, but not always and it is not allergies. But, she’ll break out in large hives and can’t breathe and has had to go to the E.R. for it. Very scary for her and her husband works in SC and she lives in NY. No family except her developmentally disabled sister, so she worries about having a bad reaction. The Hep A outbreak here is so bad that the Ohio and Indiana Tourism Bureau warned their residents to get a hepatitis shot before visiting Michigan. Over Labor Day weekend, someone with Hep A went to one of those Renaissance Festivals and everyone who attended, whether they ate or drank, or not, just went to the festival was told to either get a shot immediately or watch for symptoms. Just by being there and touching where that person touched. We can’t be like Howie Mandel and his germophobia, but it is quite nerve-wracking anyway.

  4. Thanks for the public service reminder, Janis! Like you, my husband and I have been getting flu shots for 15 years or more and have managed to avoid the flu even when people all around us get it. We got ours early this year to be extra-safe. I think a lot of people delude themselves that they won’t get it or that it can’t be all that bad. Like other vaccines, we’re not just protecting ourselves when we get them, we’re help others to avoid sickness. I hope people heed your wise warning!

    1. I was kind of surprised to get so many comments from people who don’t get vaccinated. I just assumed that most people (the smart ones who follow my blog 🙂 ) would want to protect themselves and their loved ones. I’m glad to know that you and your husband are already vaccinated.

  5. I always get the shot and, knock wood, can’t remember the last time I had the flu. Retirement sure helped. I live alone and my only real exposure is at the grocery store every week. My son and his family are scrupulous about staying away from me if any one of them has so much as a sniffle (the grandkids are exposed to so much at school).

    1. I think I’ve become a bit paranoid with my avoidance of touching grocery carts, door handles, etc. But, it seems to be working so I’ll keep doing it. We don’t have grandkids so that helps too… they seem to catch everything (I know I did when I was young). Stay healthy!

  6. Hi, Janis – I only had a flu shot once, and I had an extremely bad reaction to it. I’ve never yet had another flu shot. I have repeatedly heard the positive flu shot facts and believe them. Still, I keep thinking “maybe next year”! 🙂
    Great post!

  7. Very interesting …. as the one time I got the flu shot, when we lived in Chicago, I got the flu a few days later ~ was it from the shot or not I don’t know but I guess in my mind I made the connection.

    I have also read some negative stuff about automatically getting the shot. Side effects and stuff like that.

    Anyhow hopefully living in Sri Lanka will spare me the worst of winter illnesses.

    Peta

    1. There is a two week period after getting the flu shot when you don’t have any protection so that could have been the case. Also, you could have gotten a strain that, unfortunately, wasn’t covered by that particular year’s flu shot. Since you can’t get the flu from the shot, I imagine it’s one of those reasons. I’m not familiar with the common illnesses in Sri Lanka but, if flu isn’t one of them, lucky you!

  8. I’ve been getting the flu shot for several years now even though I’m not in a high risk category. Yes, it is a bit of an inconvenience to go out and get it, but not nearly as inconvenient as getting sick – or as you pointed out, passing it on to someone else who may be high risk.

    I’m appalled by the statistic of 80,000 deaths each year in the US and everyone else should be too. This is so easy to mitigate.

    1. I wasn’t in a high risk category either the couple of times I’ve had the flu so I know it can happen to anyone… at anytime. The 80,000 dead was just last year and it was highly unusual (I think the average most years is about 25,000… which is still awfully high). Since the flu can complicate other health risks (heart aliments, diabetes, etc.) I imagine a lot of those people didn’t die of the flu per say, but of an illness/condition that was made worse by a weakened immune system. I agree, the inconvenience is far outweighed by the benefits.

    1. You have pointed out something I recently read in an article about the flu… many people think they have had the flu (and that it “wasn’t so bad”) when what they had really wasn’t the flu at all. I, like you, distinctly remember the couple times I’ve had it and never, ever, want it again.

  9. The subject of Flu shots are definitely a hot potato. The comments are interesting to read because of the varied thoughts and reactions. We get shots every year because of our age bracket, and we head south to spend the winter with a lot of other retirees. It seems like the prudent thing to do.

    1. … a hot potato I wasn’t aware of 🙂 I’m with you, it’s prudent and it appears there are most upsides than down. I would feel terrible if I was the cause of someone else’s illness… especially someone either very old or very young. Enjoy your warm winter!

  10. Ever since the Swine Flu Epidemic – remember that? I was in college at the time. Ma marched myself and my then fiance (now husband) down to the public school where they were ‘shooting’ the vaccine (those shot-guns, geesh!) and insisted we both get vaccinated. Hubby never continued with the practice, since he ‘never’ gets sick. However, I’ve gotten one each Fall around my birthday in October. One year I thought, what the heck, I’ll go without and yikes – Got the worst case of whatever was going around that year. Never again!
    😀

  11. I’m surprised that everyone doesn’t get it. My grandfather died of the flu in an epidemic and my father died within a month of having a bad case of it. Technically they called it a heart attack but he had never recovered from the flu and we are convinced that it was a contributing factor. Even if you don’t work or travel much, most people still have to shop, go to church and do some level of outside activities. No one is immune. My grandfather was in his mid-40s and my dad was 55. Sobering. I expect all those dead people thought they didn’t need it either.

    1. I have read that the flu can exacerbate a lot of underlying conditions (heart issues being one of them), especially when you are older. Unless one is a true hermit, even homebodies still have some interaction with others… and it only takes a simple touch on something that was touched by an infected person. I can understand why you would be especially vigilant about getting the vaccination… I wish more people were.

      1. They are free too. Locally there are drive-thru clinics (free). My medical insurance covers it completely. You don’t need a doctor’s visit either. It doesn’t get any easier.

  12. I’ve gotten the flu before and it was awful, so when I started seeing a doc who pushed for flu shots I was game to try them. I think they’re worth the small pain, and slight subsequent 24 hour headache, that come with them. That being said, I have to admit that I haven’t gotten mine this year. Bad, Ally Bean. Bad, bad…

    1. There is still time! In fact, I’m going with my husband today so he can get his. Our health care provider makes it pretty easy and I’ve seen a lot of signs in drug stores saying they provide free shots. I’ve never experienced the post-shot headache but it would be a small price to pay for protection.

  13. An important message indeed. We just got ours only yesterday; to my utter surprise my wife mentioned how her sister is adamantly against them. I was taken aback by this and immediately wondered if she was also one of those people who’s also against childhood vaccinations too. But no, she thinks the child vaccinations are fine. I can’t imagine why anyone would be against the flu vaccine. – Marty

    1. I have to admit that I was very surprised at how many commented to my post saying that they never get a flu shot. I think the main reason is that they don’t think they need one so, why bother? I hope I gave them at least a little to think about. After all, it’s not only to protect yourself… it’s to protect others too. I wonder what your SIL’s reason is… “adamantly against” is very different from “I just don’t think I need it.”

      1. I suspect her thoughts on it closely resemble the same outrageous claims that are offered against childhood vaccinations. For whatever reason, though, to the best of my knowledge she’s decided to keep it to herself. But whatever it is, the opinions of medical practitioners matter more to me. Get the shot and if you do get he flu you’ll not suffer as much — it’s not rocket science.

  14. I try to get the flu shot every year, but I admit that I have missed it once or twice. I know it’s not perfect, but as you say, it’s better than nothing. I also am very careful to carry hand sanitizer with me, and I use it in restaurants after handling menus, after using a touch screen at the grocery store, etc. I figure every little bit helps!

    1. I think that keeping your hands clean is just about the best defense you can practice, after getting vaccinated. We touch things all the time that, if we could see the germs on the object, we wouldn’t get anywhere near it. Then, we touch our eyes or nose and that’s that. I’m not sure how well sanitizer work, but they certainly are better than nothing. Keep well, Ann!

  15. Thanks for the reminder! I’ve been meaning to do this but keep putting it off. Two or three years ago a classmate of mine died of the flu. He was the pinnacle of power and health, very active, engaged in life, and then he was gone. We were all dumbfounded. But, he lived alone, and undoubtedly, he tried to tough it out and not be a big baby…until it was too late and he was too dehydrated. I big life lesson for me.

    1. Oh my, how horrible. I remember when I was so sick, an angel (actually a very good friend) came over and made me soup. If she hadn’t done that, I don’t know what I would have done for food. Don’t put off getting your shot any longer… promise.

  16. I worked in health care, and would always get the vaccine but it always amazed me how many health care professionals did not. This would really annoy me, as one of the main reasons to get immunized is so you don’t pass it onto someone more vulnerable who might not be able to fight it off. I got the H1N1 flu in 2009-10? I forget which year it was circulating, about a week before the vaccine came out, and it was the sickest I have ever been in my life – flat out in bed for 2 weeks of pure misery….never ever want to go through that again.

  17. I’ve been getting flu shots since my late 30’s to help protect our asthmatic Baby Girl. In 99 I got the flu anyway and that morphed into pneumonia which landed me in ICU for 4 days on death’s door. It was so insidious, and silent as it came. I just realized I was terribly ill and needed to go to the hospital. Thank God I went! I have a pretty good idea of how you were feeling.

    I got the flu early this year which laid me out for a week, but it could have been so much worse. I’m getting my flu shot next week, tomorrow I’m getting the Shingles vaccine. I had a mild case 2 years ago and don’t want those again!
    I tend to be pro vaccine, but I space them out. I’m not a fan of loading up on all sorts of vaccinations at once like they do now.

    1. Good to know that you also will be getting your flu shot! I am anxious to get the shingles vaccine but you make a good point about spacing these things out. I had an illness years ago that, because of the treatment, suppressed my immune system. I got a bad case of shingles because of it… another pain I never want to have again.

  18. Great public service post! My dear MIL was a nurse, and she made sure we all got our flu shots every year. I guess that job is mine now that she is gone! I will have to use your statistics. Thank you!

  19. I got my flu shot last week, and I won’t miss it! About two years ago the vaccine didn’t do the trick and I got one of the worst cases I’d ever had. No one says it’s a “sure thing,” but why wouldn’t we want to at least know we’ve done all we could? The statistics you shared are tremendously sobering!

  20. Great info and advice, Janis. We always get flu shots. They are fast, free, nearly painless, and mostly effective. It makes absolutely no sense to skip the shot and then spend a week in bed. Thanks for spreading the word.

  21. Since Kaiser offers them free, I get one every year! Why not? Last Christmas while we were in SD, then on to Hawaii, everyone got sick, whether it was the flu or not, but severe cold symptoms. When my husband gets sick that’s a rare event. I was the ONLY one who did not get sick…I was convinced I would be sick while in Hawaii! I’ve had flu a couple of times, but it’s been a while! I’m very grateful these shots are available to anyone free!

    1. I’m with Kaiser too and they make it really easy to get vaccinated. I think other health plans do too and they are mostly (all?) free. I see signs at drug stores for free shots… so there really is no excuse for not protecting yourself and others.

  22. You come up with the most incredible items to be grateful for, Janis! I’ve only had one flu shot in my life (in the US) and that was because I had to in order to obtain my green card. I think it cost $25 at Walmart. Mark and I rarely get sick, since we are often on our own and don’t interact with people much. I see your points about getting the vaccine, though, despite not all the strands being covered. If they would be free, we might consider getting them this year.

    1. I thought most health plans offered free shots but maybe not (don’t get me started about medical coverage in the U.S.). We rarely get sick either, but it’s so easy to touch the wrong thing at the wrong moment. After my last experience I’m doing whatever I can to avoid a repeat. Stay well, my friend.

  23. It seems that getting vaccinations of many types is a very personal issue. My husband and I have always gotten the flu shot and we haven’t had the flu for decades (knock on wood).

  24. Hi Janis
    I’ve never actually had the flu. Lucky I guess. But, this year I turn 66 and am seriously considering getting my shot.
    Thanks for reminding me, I’d much rather get a shot that is over in a matter of seconds than miss out on all the good stuff the flu season has to offer other than the flu.
    Laura

  25. I always get a flu shot. I think my daughter getting the flu as a toddler and my having to take care of her–and not getting the flu myself because I’d had the shot!–convinced me that it was worth it. I can’t remember anymore why she hadn’t had the shot. Maybe she was too young, or I was just reluctant to take her. Not anymore. I got mine in early September already and am glad I don’t have to think about it for another year!

  26. For many years I did not get the flu shot because I am generally healthy and thought I didn’t need it. My husband, however, has some chronic health problems and convinced me that I needed to get one to protect his health. Since then, I’ve gotten my shot each year. In fact, I’m getting one tomorrow at my office’s flu shot clinic. I have shared your post.

    1. I think many people don’t realize that these vaccines are not only for them, but for others who could be impacted to a much greater extent. Thank you for being one of those who gets vaccinated for the greater good. And, thank you for the share!

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