A mother brings her completely immunized 8-year-old child into your office for his annual checkup and influenza vaccine. When you offer to give a flu vaccine to the mother as well, she declines. Which of the following reservations about the flu vaccine should a board-certified physician consider acceptable from this mother?

a.  “I don’t do the flu vaccine.  Everyone I know who gets a flu shot gets sick/gets the flu from the vaccine.”

b.  “I don’t do the flu vaccine.  Everyone I know who gets a flu shot seems to be sicker (during the cold and flu season) after getting one than those who don’t.”

c.  “I don’t do the flu vaccine.  I’ve never had the flu.”

d.  “I don’t do the flu vaccine.  I don’t like shots.  They hurt.”

e.  All of the above.

f.  None of the above.

Answer: f.  None of the above.  (I don’t like shots either.)

After almost 25 years in practice, I’ve heard all the excuses for not getting vaccines, said to me with straight faces:  “This vaccine has monkey tissue in it” or “that vaccine has fetal tissue in it” or “those vaccines have ingredients (thimerosal, formaldehyde, aluminum… take your pick) that will cause autism, cancer, brain damage, death…” or “I don’t believe in vaccines” (say WHAT?!?).

I’m always willing to debunk the myths that have somehow infiltrated parents’ minds about vaccine, but sometimes, even the most potent myth-busting falls short.  The sooner pediatricians accept the fact that some people will never change their minds (no matter how much factual information — based in science and common sense — is provided), the sooner we can stress out less and accept the fact that people will still be willing to put themselves (and worse, others) in harm’s way.

None of the possible excuses from the vignette above are acceptable to this board-certified physician:

a.  There is nothing in a flu shot that can get you sick.  A flu shot can, possibly, cause mild discomfort and swelling at the site of the injection, and the flu vaccine given by nasal spray (FluMist) can possibly cause some nasal stuffiness and a scratchy throat after it’s administered.  Also, flu vaccines are given during cold and flu season, so temporally speaking, it’s not uncommon for people to be brewing a viral upper respiratory cold when they get their flu shot, but before they show symptoms of illness.  But flu vaccines won’t make you sick!

b.  People who have chronic illnesses — common ones like asthma, diabetes, obesity, or cancer — are used to getting flu vaccines every year.  People with chronic medical conditions tend to get sick more often than people who don’t have chronic medical conditions, and getting the flu vaccine will only prevent influenza, not the other viral and bacterial infections they may be prone to. Every pediatrician (and almost every teacher) I know will receive a flu vaccine this Fall.  And I guarantee that practically every one of us will come down with at least one cold or GI bug or strep throat during this current flu season.  Influenza vaccine only protects us from influenza (which can, by the way, make us and people we infect very, very sick — or worse)!

c.  You’ve never had the flu?  You are lucky.  One episode of influenza will make a convert out of you, I assure you.  I’ve never had a hole-in-one, but I keep playing.  Maybe one day…

d.  Yeah, shots hurt.  Now you know how your kids feel.  Be a role model for your children, set an example for your friends, impress (and protect) your spouse (in fact, protect all God’s children, including those who can’t get a vaccine due to their own medical reasons).  Or get the FluMist!

Yesterday, we discussed the public fear of a virus (EV-D68) that is sweeping the nation, making kids and adults sick (especially kids with asthma), but is killing no one (at least, not yet).  Influenza, as it does every year, will soon be sweeping the nation, making kids and adults sick.  It will kill, as it does every year, those who are the youngest and, though often no fault of their own, the weakest among us.  There will also be victims from the healthiest among us.

I’m not making this up.  Listen to Liz Szabo:

At a time when many people are preoccupied with the dangers of Ebola and a rare respiratory virus striking children, health officials announced Thursday that fewer than half of Americans are being vaccinated against the flu, which kills an average of more than 30,000 people a year.

Or David Gorski:

The actual flu is a bad actor. The last time I had it, which was, not so surprisingly, the last time I was too lazy to get the yearly flu vaccine, it knocked me on my posterior for over a week. I thought I was in danger of dying: high fever, generalized malaise and musculoskeletal aches, a bad cough, and in general just feeling awful. That is the flu. It can cause so much inflammation in your lungs that you can get a secondary pneumonia or your lungs can fail from the inflammation caused by the infection. If all you have is a few sniffles and a cough plus or minus a low grade fever, you probably do not have the flu, but people commonly think that it is. Based on this misconception, they downplay the seriousness of the flu, thinking they can deal with it if they get it. Most probably can, although they’ll be laid up for several days. Some, however, cannot, even if they’re young and healthy…

There are no more excuses.  Make sure that you, your children, and those who live and breath around you get a flu vaccine this and every year.  Let your doctor or your child’s pediatrician give you one.  Or go to your local pharmacy and get one.  Insurance pays for it.  (If you don’t have health insurance at the moment, the government will pay for it — just go!)  It will only cost you a very short amount of time.  If you don’t have that you probably have bigger problems to deal with.