/ Richard Holdeman

Why My Family Gets the Flu Vaccine Every Year

Each year, I make sure that every person in my family receives the flu vaccine. Here is a quick rundown of why:

  1. Flu is a serious illness that kills many people every year. Flu is caused by influenza viruses and infects somewhere between 9 and 60 million people every year in the U.S. Since 2010 there have been between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths every year in our country. Complications from the flu include encephalitis, pneumonia, and inflammation of the heart. People with underlying conditions like asthma, heart disease, or diabetes are especially at risk of developing complications.
  2. One of the deadliest diseases in recorded human history was the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, which is estimated to have infected 500 million people worldwide, killing as many of 50 million people – including over 650,000 Americans. Go into virtually any, older cemetery and you will find young victims of the “Spanish Flu” epidemic. The potential harm caused by influenza is staggering.
  3. Flu is nasty and will make you seriously uncomfortable even if it does not send you to the hospital. Most people who get the flu do not die. But most who get it do suffer. Many people are confused about what the flu is. It is not a severe cold. It is not a sinus infection. It is not an intestinal bug that gives you gastrointestinal problems. Influenza is a virus that attacks your lungs. The onset of symptoms can be very rapid and usually includes spiking a high fever, a dry, unproductive cough, a sore throat, severe head and body aches, and fatigue. I’ve had the flu one time in my life (a year when I did not get vaccinated), and I was completely wiped out for the better part of a week. If you’ve actually had the flu, then you know how unpleasant it is.
  4. Flu is incredibly contagious and can spread before a person knows he or she is sick. While the symptoms of the flu come on fairly rapidly, a person can actually be infectious without experiencing symptoms, which means it is very difficult to avoid coming into contact with the virus during an especially bad flu season (like the current one).
  5. Flu is especially hard on children under five years of age (even tougher on children under two), adults 65 and older, and people with compromised immune systems. There are people I love in each one of those categories. By being vaccinated, I reduce the odds that I will get the flu and pass it on to someone I love, who is more vulnerable.
  6. Because the flu virus mutates so quickly, it is always changing. Building up “resistance” to it does not happen effectively. Incredibly, the genetic information carried in the flu virus amounts to seven (C strains) or eight (A and B strains) small pieces of RNA, which encode for only 11 proteins. RNA mutates rapidly and so, in addition to having several different families of influenza virus, each strain is constantly mutating, thus making it very difficult for your immune system to detect. The only way to try to avoid this is to get the vaccine every flu season.
  7. Many people where I live are getting the flu right now. Unless you live in Oregon, the place where you live is also experiencing a widespread flu outbreak. Millions of people have gotten the flu this flu season and thousands have died already. It is not entirely clear if we’ve passed the peak of the current season yet or not. Even if we have, it looks like there will be many more cases through the months of March and April. 195 people have died from the flu in the state of Indiana so far this season. People will continue to die in the state where you live as well.
  8. Although the efficacy of the vaccine this year is lower than normal (only 36%), it’s far from zero! If getting the vaccine for my kids improves the likelihood that they will avoid getting the flu altogether or lesson the severity of the disease should they get it, then that seems like a bargain. Flu vaccines are readily available and easy to afford.
  9. The risks associated with getting the flu vaccine are minimal. The most common side-effects are redness and swelling at the point of injection. Some people report headaches, fatigue, or mild nausea. In very rare cases people have reported some type of allergic reaction to the flu vaccine. Severe adverse reactions are incredibly rare and usually happen soon after a vaccine is administered. Over the last 50 years, hundreds of millions of flu vaccines have been given so there is abundant data showing that they are safe.
  10. The flu vaccine does not cause the flu! The current vaccines use inactivated viruses grown in eggs or recombinant viruses that do not have the ability to cause the flu. The CDC is not recommending the use of the live, attenuated nasal spray vaccine this year since it is not a good match for the currently circulating strains of the virus. From time to time, I’ve had a friend suggest to me that his taking the flu vaccine caused him to catch an illness. Here, the old adage that correlation is not causation is helpful to remember. The most likely explanation for my friend is that he got a common cold (caused by completely different group of viruses). The flu vaccine won’t do anything to keep you from getting a cold, but, at the same time, there is nothing in a flu vaccine that will give you a cold!
    God, in His wise providence, has allowed human beings to learn many things about His creation that genuinely help us prosper and serve Him. Vaccines are one of the greatest discoveries we’ve made. Vaccines have saved hundreds of millions of lives over the last hundred years. The flu vaccine is a simple way to decrease your risks of getting a potentially fatal disease. That is why I wholeheartedly embrace this one, small provision of God for us.

Of course, even if you get a flu vaccine, you might get the flu, and you will certainly die from something eventually. This reminds us that the ultimate provision of God for us is the Lord Jesus Christ, who removes our sins and gives us eternal life. Jesus is the only provision that works always and forever.

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)

All this information (and a whole lot more) is available here.

Richard Holdeman

Richard Holdeman

Called to faith in 1987; to marry Amy in 1989; to coach college hockey in 1992; to have daughters in 1996; to teach at I.U. in 1997; to pastor the Bloomington Reformed Presbyterian Church in 2005.

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