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EHS OutLoud Blog

Better Late Than Never: Getting the H1N1 Flu Shot

I got my H1N1 flu shot today. Finally. Talk about being a procrastinator, right?

I could blame my late vaccination on all sorts of things. Back in the fall, when the shot was in high demand, I didn’t qualify because I wasn’t in a high-risk category. I added my name to the waiting list at my doctor’s office with the understanding that they would call when more shots became available. “Should be about a week,” the receptionist told me. This was late November.

That week passed. Then another. All the while, both H1N1 cases and concerns were dwindling. Even so, I knew the vaccine was still important. By being vaccinated, I’d protect myself and also have less of a chance of passing the flu on to someone who would be in the high-risk category. It was the responsible thing to do.

On the other hand, H1N1 was shaping up to be not as big of a threat as everyone first feared. If I did catch H1N1, I’d probably be sick for a week and then back to my old self. Not to mention that the holidays were coming up and I was busy. So busy that I didn’t bother contacting my doctor, even as December passed and I still hadn’t received a call from the office. Never mind that it was being reported that the shot should now be available in my area – I never bothered to check.

This week, however, I couldn’t live down my H1N1 vaccine guilt. It’s National Influenza Vaccination Week, and health care professionals continue urging people to get the vaccine, even if major concerns about the flu have died down a bit.

This week, I also interviewed Dr. Noni MacDonald at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Dr. MacDonald is a specialist in pediatric infectious disease. During our discussion, which will appear on soon in the form of a podcast, she said a few things that caught my attention.

First, she suggested that during the deadly influenza pandemic of 1918, people would be falling all over themselves for a vaccine. “If they knew there was a vaccine to protect them, they’d be lined up around the block, standing in line for 4 days in a row to get it,” MacDonald said.

Additionally, while this flu isn’t turning out to be as deadly as originally feared, it’s still bad news. It’s sending young people to the hospital and putting them on ventilators – young people who normally would not end up in the hospital after contracting a case of the seasonal flu.

Finally, MacDonald reiterated that the vaccine is safe and that we need to weigh the risks of the flu versus the risks of the vaccine.

“We have a lot of experience with the influenza vaccine for a large number of years in a wide number of different kinds of populations. It’s a very safe vaccine,” she stressed.

“People have forgotten what these bad diseases can look like, and they ramp up their anxiety about risk about the vaccine as opposed to putting this into perspective,” she said about vaccines in general. “The risk of the vaccine is very, very small. The benefits of the vaccine are very large.”

I decided I couldn’t put off my vaccination any longer. Better late than never, right? I called my doctor’s office, confirmed that there was plenty of H1N1 vaccine available (whatever happened to that waiting list?) and stopped by early in the morning for the shot.

When I asked the nurse how many people were still coming in for this vaccine, she laughed at me.

“The rush was in October and November,” she said. “Now, not so much. We’re not seeing very many people get it now.” Then she stuck the needle into my arm and told me I was all set.

I have now finally, officially received my H1N1 flu shot. And I have to say – it didn’t even hurt.

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