Get Your Damn Flu Shot Already
Image via AP
Have you heard? The flu this year will fuck you up. This isn’t
some lazy strain of illness you’ll contract only by licking a
subway pole or letting a team of Kindergartners touch your
sandwich. This flu is waiting for you, lurking on
every airplane and office and supermarket you enter, searching
your immune system for a moment of weakness before it pounces.
And when you get it, it’s gonna be bad.
As I type this with my raw, over-scrubbed hands, the flu is
advancing rapidly across the country. The Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention
says it’s already claimed victims in 46 states—nearly four
times as many as last year. Its strain—H3N2—is even more
miserable than its recent predecessors, causing significant
numbers of hospitalizations, particularly among children.
According to CBS, one in 10,000 children under the age of
four has been hospitalized with flu this season, and it’s only
So what can you do? The CDC
says that first off, you should stay the hell away from
sick people, and wash your hands so often that your skin starts
to flake away, eventually leaving you with nothing but
freshly-scrubbed bone. That’s paraphrased, but I’m pretty sure
it’s what they meant. If washing with soap and water isn’t an
option, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Don’t touch your face! Specifically your eyes, nose and mouth!
If you must touch your face, either to scratch an itch or
remove some mustard that landed there, wash (what’s left) of
your hands (again) first.
And finally, get a flu shot. “But I always feel sick after I
get a flu shot!” I whined, just now, to my computer. The CDC
points out that flu shots can’t actually cause the flu,
since the vaccine is made either with inactive flu viruses or
no virus at all. The most common side effect from the shot is
soreness or tenderness at the injection site; maybe a low-grade
fever or muscle aches. Your (fine, my) childhood memories of
getting the flu following a flu shot are fictitious. Lifehacker
posits I probably just got the actual flu, since A) flu
shots are not fail-safe B) maybe I didn’t get it soon enough or
C) I am probably misremembering anyway. Fine.
“But it’s already January 11, probably no sense in getting one
this year,” I declared to the cat, who responded by doing
nothing. Wrong, apparently. A story in the New York
literally entitled “Why It’s Still Worth Getting a Flu
Shot” argues that getting the flu shot won’t necessarily
inoculate you against the virus, but it will mitigate
the damage if you’re unlucky enough to get it. The piece breaks
down the shot’s efficacy in terms of absolute risk, referring
to the number of people who need to be treated in order for one
person to benefit, a metric known as “number needed to treat,”
Let’s say that this year’s flu vaccine is even worse than we
think. Maybe the absolute risk reduction will be as low as 1
percentage point, making the N.N.T. 100. That’s still not
that bad. Even at an N.N.T. of 100, for every 100 people who
get a flu shot, one fewer will get the flu. That’s a pretty
compared with many other treatments that health experts
recommend every day.
a Cochrane review published in 2016 showed that the
N.N.T. in children 6 years old or younger to prevent one flu
case was just six — an astonishing payoff in medical terms.
It has even been shown to be effective in
preventing death in children from flu-related causes.
“Where do I even get a flu shot?” I just wailed across the room
to a carton of eggs sitting on my countertop. Basically any
pharmacy, though if you’re confused, the CDC also has
a widget that allows you to search by zip code. Doctors and
walk-in clinics are also good options.
“How much will this frickin’ thing cost?” I whimpered to my
cuticles, which could use some love, frankly. Good news: The
Affordable Care Act
requires insurers to cover flu shots as preventative
measures, though some companies may only cover them at specific
locations. Without insurance, the price
ranges from around $15 to $40 at national chains and drug
stores like CVS and Costco.
If you do get sick, immediately obtain some Tamiflu, stay in
bed, and be grateful you’re
not a man.