I've Been Shot

Remember the past two years, when there were flu vaccine shortages and people freaked out and someone please stick something in my arm now because people told me I couldn’t get it and I want it!? Vaguely?

Yeah, me too.

This year, however, flu shots seem to be in abundance in the U.S. There were no manufacturing problems; distribution is going smoothly. So, there is no demand. People aren’t worried about it. Which means shorter lines to get shot up.

I fall into the category of “people who least need to be vaccinated”. I’m in my 20s and of decent health. People from 50-64 are 10 times as likely to die from influenza that people younger than 50, and people older than 64 are another 10 times as likely to pass into the great beyond as the people from 50-64. I realize these are generalized figures that work out nicely from population averages, but imagine if they were hard facts.*

“A 65 year old man passed away from influenza today. It was also his birthday. His doctor said that yesterday he was healthy, suffering from a mild case of the flu, but once he turned 65, his quickly deteriorated and there was nothing the staff could do for him.”

Here’s the other thing about the flu virus – there are multiple strains that are always changing. Smallpox is one virus. One virus = one vaccine = almost total elimination of the disease. Think about the vaccines you get when you are little. You don’t need to get those every year. But influenza, that’s a sneaky one. In February, the World Health Organization gets together, thinks really hard, and comes up with the strains that are most likely to affect the world for the coming year. That’s what you are vaccinated against.

This year, the vaccine contains 3 strains:

-an A/New Caledonia/20/99 (H1N1)-like virus; -an A/Wisconsin/67/2005 (H3N2)-like virus (A/Wisconsin/67/2005 and A/Hiroshima/52/2005 strains); -a B/Malaysia/2506/2004-like virus from B/Malaysia/2506/2004 and B/Ohio/1/2005 strains which are of B/Victoria/2/87 lineage.

It sounds complex to me too.**

The one thing to remember - this is what the WHO thinks is going to be floating around this year. If they happen to be wrong (they made this decision back in February), and a different strain starts flowing around, it's every man, woman, child, and other land, water or airborne mammal for themselves. Reassuring, isn't it? I'll just hope they know what they're doing.

All of this leads me to where I was earlier today – getting a flu shot at work. I patiently stood in line so a tiny old man could verify that I had correctly filled out the forms stating that, if anything should happen to me, my immediate family will not be allowed to file a grievance against anyone. These vaccinations are perfectly safe, but you just never know. He looked over his shoulder and told me to wait behind the man in the blue shirt over there until it was my turn.

The man in the blue shirt was the same man who was just in front of me in the first line. I heard him receive the same instructions. He was standing about 4 feet away. This is the type of situation where you just say thank you and keep the show rolling.

I moved up the queue until it was my turn to be stabbed with the needle. The administering nurse asked me to roll up my sleeve above my shoulder. Today, I happen to have on a long sleeve shirt with sleeves that are fitted. They don’t roll up past my shoulder. I pulled it up as far as possible and asked if that was sufficient.

She gave me a look that asked what kind of idiot was I that couldn’t roll up his sleeve, looked over the top of her glasses at my arm and said, “Yeah, that should be fine.”

Um, should be or is? Last time I checked, there was a difference. “Is” means you’re sure that everything is good. “Should be” is more along the “What’s the worst that can happen?” line. I distinctly recall just signing a form that talked about what would happen if I die. That’s the worst that can happen. “Should be” isn’t really going to cut it here.

I kept my mouth shut and took it like a man. (Which means that I blamed the tears streaming down my face on getting something in my contact. I hate when that happens.) I didn’t ever get a sucker or a bandage with cartoon characters on it.

I’m still ok I guess. For now.

* - This is a real stat from a government webpage. I didn’t make it up. ** - There is no way I made these up either. The virus names come from where they were first discovered, what year, and some other information about the virus itself. The first one in the vaccine has been around since 1999, which, in the influenza world, is so not hip any more. I bet that the virus drives really slowly with its blinker on all the time.