DRHOOK- Just stick it: Flu vaccine better than sickness, death

the handsome doctor John Hong

The Wii used to be so hot you couldn't get one anywhere. People tackled each other just to get the video game sensation in time for Santa Claus. I still don't own a Wii because it's Wii too expensive for me to be beaten by my young nieces and nephews!

Are flu vaccines hot like the Wii?

Cold weather is still a couple of months away, and already flu vaccines ads are practically saying, "C'mon down! You're the next contestant in The Vaccine is Right!" 

If you believe in conspiracies, you might believe flu vaccine makers intentionally cause a vaccine shortage every year. We seem to run out each winter like Cabbage Patch Kids in the 1980s. As a result, are people jumping the gun to get their flu shots now?

The shot is recommended in September because the flu season generally runs November to March. Since it takes about two weeks to develop immunity, even Halloween is a bit late to get vaccinated, though it is really never too late to be protected. 

Historically, February is the worst month for influenza outbreaks. So if you get your vaccine too early, your immunity might drop and you won't be quite as protected. Happy Valentine's, everybody!

Along with the traditional flu-shot, the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine is recommended at the same time. And here's the interesting thing: the flu shot used to be recommended only for people over the age of 65 or for the younger folks with conditions like diabetes, HIV, kidney failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and asthma. But now the CDC recommends in general that everyone over the age of six months be vaccinated.

Will we have enough flu shots? In the past few years, my medical practice always got flu shots one to two months after all the pharmacies got theirs, and still we never got our full order. The vaccine companies would say, "Oh, we will get you more in a week or two– or three– or whenever." Grrr.

The flu shot is still made in egg proteins, so folks with egg allergies can't take it. There's a nasal-spray vaccine, but that's also made with eggs. I don't think the nasal-spray flu vaccine has ever really caught on, probably because it's more expensive. It can only be given to folks between the ages of two and 49, and it can't be given to people who are pregnant, HIV-positive, or those who have diabetes, kidney insufficiency, COPD, asthma, or anyone taking immunosuppressants.

The flu vaccine doesn't prevent the flu. It does help reduce the symptoms, and– quite importantly– the chance of dying from it. 

The effectiveness of the vaccine really depends on whether the vaccine matches the flu virus strain that year. That's because the flu virus is never quite the same each year, so scientists have to predict what little alterations the upcoming flu virus will have. As a result, the flu vaccine is generally about 50-88 percent effective.

Many people miss work or school because of the flu. I've had the flu about four times, and it is soooooo awful: fever, body aches, headache, no appetite, sore throat, cough, and a feeling a nuclear bomb just went off in your body.

And then ther's death. Between 1972-1992, about 426,000 Americans died from it. 

So while the flu shot isn't perfect, it's something quite a few of us should want for some protection. Since the CDC now recommends it to everyone over six months old who isn't allergic to it, I wonder if people will be wresting vaccines out of each others' hands.

Perhaps Wii can make a new video game: Victorious Vaccinator!


Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he's a renowned physician with an interesting website, drjohnhong.com. Email him with your questions.



This year's vaccine is supposed to include H1N1, so you shouldn't need to get a separate H1N1 vaccine.

What do you think of the epidemiological evidence that flu shots do NOT actually reduce likelihood of death from flu? Read this article from last year's Atlantic Monthly http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/11/does-the-vaccine-mat...

I actually get my flu shots regularly and was fascinated by this article and the complete rejection by the establishment of the ideas within.