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.



A while back, a pharmacist where I filled my prescriptions went out of her way to do a very nice thing.  At the time, I was contemplating switching to a pharmacy closer to my home, but that little (big) act of kindness kept my business at that store longer than I intended.

Without going into tons of detail, the pharmacy tried to phone me, but the call wouldn’t go through.  For some reason the pharmacy’s telephone system won’t let them call a different area code.  How stupid is that?  Pharmacists can be trusted to work with money and lots of expensive medications, but they can’t be trusted to call patients about their prescriptions because it might run up the corporate phone bill?

Since it’s not a long distance call, just a different area code, it’s an incredibly stupid policy.

Anyhow, after trying all morning and finally figuring out that it was the phone system’s problem and the call would never go through, the pharmacist used her personal cell phone to call me when she took her lunch break.  She didn’t say she was on her lunch break, but it’s easy enough to look at the clock and figure that one out; I know when the pharmacy closes for lunch.  It was really nice of her to follow up instead of just shrugging it off and saying that they’d tried to call but couldn’t get through.

I’d send a thank-you note, but she doesn’t usually work at that store and I didn’t get her name.  Belated thank you to that very helpful pharmacist.