I’m not going to tell you to get one or not to get one, but I’ll tell you why I got mine. I’m unconvinced it was the flu, but I’ve lost work to illness the last couple of winters, and I don’t get paid sicktime. It’s been years since I had a flu shot, so I said to myself in my sickbed this February, “I’ll try it and see if I get sick this year.”

So why had I been avoiding it? Well, I hadn’t had a flu shot since they were free in the corporate world. When I did get one, I got sick. I heard things about mercury and autoimmune disorders. I was underinsured.

Obviously, I don’t need a double-blind study for everything I believe; I’m an acupuncturist! I drank the Kool-Aid about vaccination for a while, but I have to tell you, being a complementary medical practitioner and being a scientist are not mutually exclusive. And I never stopped believing in germ theory; wash your hands, people. All the yu ping feng san in the world won’t make you invincible.

Vaccination doesn’t make you invincible, either. Viruses mutate. There are many different strains of flu; every year, the vaccine makers pick which they think are going to be the key players. If it’s a good match, vaccination can decrease infection rates from 70-90% in healthy adults. Sometimes the shot isn’t a good match, and sometimes the recipient isn’t healthy. The vaccination doesn’t work as well in the elderly, the very young, and those with decreased immune systems, in other words, the people who need its protection the most. It takes a couple of weeks for the body to build antibodies, anyway; if you are exposed to the flu the day you get the shot, you may be SOL. Sometimes it makes people feel sick for a day or two (rather than the 2 weeks of awful that is, not just a cold, but the actual flu).

So, getting a flu shot is a gamble; it might not actually protect you from the flu at all. Or it might. So let’s look at some other things the rumor mill would say are a big risk. Mercury, for example. There is four times as much mercury in a can of tuna than there is in a flu shot. The autism thing has been disproven. Guillain-BarrĂ©. One of the scare articles I’ve been spammed with says, “an undisclosed number of people” receiving swine flu vaccination have come down with it. In my life, I can’t remember hearing about swine flu, so I Googled it. You know when the last time swine flu vaccinations were a big thing? 1976. You could say an undisclosed number of people who got that shot had car accidents, and it would make about as much sense. I’ve read around 500 out of millions and that it is not out of line with the regular rate of this disease.

Now, critics of western medicine and Big Pharma will say that corporate representatives advertise their products to the general public and schmooze doctors to get their products used, whether the research backs it up or not. Here’s the thing, though, the same thing happens in alternative medicine. I can’t even tell you how much spam I got in email and phone calls from every player in the herbal market once swine flu started making headlines. (And unlike with the medical doctors, they don’t even bring me breakfast or promotional gifts! This is not because supplement companies are more honest, it’s because I have less purchasing power.) Do I carry a vitamin D product? Sure I do. I’m not promoting it as a panacea, though.

These days my asthma/allergies are under a lot better control than they were a decade ago, which may be a reason I had no complications from the shot this time and took ill for a couple days last time. It didn’t hurt me, though some of my friends have complained about sore arms. I’m fully expecting a bill, since I remain underinsured, but the pharmacist said it was covered.

Now, as far as swine flu, I do plan on getting that one, too, since there have been cases in my city. I didn’t panic when swine flu hit the media, and I’m not panicked now, but I’m going to go ahead and get vaccinated if I can. The way I see it is, if I get sick, I probably won’t die, but I might. And getting sick is mighty inconvenient anyway. To me, the risk of some rare but horrible side effect is worth a chance at preventing very common illness.

There are lots of scary articles out on the internets, but I rather enjoyed these:

http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20090724/vaccine_faq_090725/20091022?hub=Health

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=851