Flu Shots

Drug stores now have signs up that flu shots are available in the pharmacy.  At my doctor’s office, flu shots are $20 and paid for by my health insurance – but not available yet.  At the pharmacy, flu shots are $30 and not covered by my health insurance – and apparently available now.

My struggle, however, isn’t with whether or not I should spend the $30 now instead of waiting until October when it won’t cost me anything out of pocket.  My struggle is with whether or not to get the vaccine at all, and my quandary has nothing to do with price.  I’ve had the flu before, and would gladly pay $30 to prevent it ever happening again.

When I started reading, though, I discovered that the components of the flu vaccine don’t always change from year to year.  According to the CDC, this year’s trivalent seasonal flu vaccine’s components are:

  1. A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like antigen – last year’s swine flu vaccine
  2. A/Perth/16/2009 (H3N2)-like antigen
  3. B/Brisbane/60/2008-like antigen – part of last year’s seasonal flu vaccine

If you got all your flu vaccines last year, you’ve already been vaccinated against 2/3 of the things covered by this year’s vaccine.  So I started wondering, since I’ve already had two-thirds of this vaccine, how long does the flu shot provide immunity?  Maybe I could skip this year.

In the same CDC article linked above, it sounds like a few studies have been done, but we just don’t know how long the vaccine lasts.  There’s no indication that they check every year (and even if they did, it will be next year before we know the results of last year’s shot).  From the studies that have been done in the past, it looks like the flu vaccine is effective for six to eight months.  Months!!!  After that, people start losing immunity to the specific strains contained in the shot.

One study showed 92-100% effectiveness the first year; a different study only showed 75% effectiveness.  That’s the first year.  Up to 55% of people lose immunity after that (depending on the strain of flu and various other unknown factors).  What we don’t know is which people lose immunity.  I’ve had the flu once.  I’m not willing to gamble that last year’s shots gave me immunity this year – for too many people, it doesn’t work that way.

I started out this post looking for a way to rationalize not getting immunized this year.  Instead, I’ve talked myself into getting the shot once again.

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8 thoughts on “Flu Shots

  1. I’ll be getting the shot again. I’ve gotten them every year before getting RA, and now that I’ve got it, there’s no way I’m taking a chance on getting sick…. :) L

  2. Me, too. And hopefully I’ll finally get my husband talked into getting the shot as well. I’m not due for the pneumonia shot for a couple more years yet (thankfully!).

  3. An excellent post! The standard line is that you need a flu shot every year, but it’s based on the changing virus, not so much on the dropping immunity. You have uncovered good research that indicates that going without the flu shot is a big gamble in that way too. There is no way to know if you are the one whose shot has “worn off.” Those for whom the flu is more than just uncomfortable should get the shot every year.

  4. I’ll get the shot when it’s available. I’ve never really understood why someone wouldn’t get it, particularly if it cost them nothing. Personally, I’ve never had any adverse reaction, I’ve never gotten “the flu” after getting the shot, and the injection itself is quick and almost painless. When I compare getting the shot to getting sick with the seasonal flu, particularly while taking meds that lower my immune response, there’s just no argument.

  5. Two of my kids had swine flu last year so as much as I hate taking everyone to get the shot (and paying for them all)I will do it. I don’t actually find the shots painful at all, and sometimes I don’t even feel it. Even my kids say it isn’t so bad…after they have the shot. Before the shot they worry and forget that they (should) know from the previous year that it hardly hurts.

    • Same things here. My kids dread the shots beforehand, but afterward say it didn’t hurt as much as they expected. But I’ve been reminded that two of my kids get light-headed after shots, so maybe the problem is that they remember that feeling.

  6. Pingback: Excuses « ∞ itis

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