The Mountain Times

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Why I didn’t get a flu shot even though I should have

It seems we're in the midst of what may turn out to be one of the worst flu seasons in recent years, although of course I didn't know this until I already had the flu. An interesting thing about flu-related articles in newspapers and magazines is that they're very easy to skip over when you yourself are healthy.

Influenza typically kills a few hundred thousand people every year, including about 36,000 Americans, once in a while the (total) death toll will rise into the millions. It costs the U.S. economy around $10 billion annually, but that number will probably be higher in 2013, and, well, yeah, the main thing is that it actually kills people, and although it probably won't end mine because I'm young and strong (or at least I thought I was before the flu enfeebled me), isn't it nice that there's a vaccine for this, and why aren't we all taking it?

I've done some soul-searching on the subject - not getting a flu shot this winter will be one of the great regrets of my life until I get healthy and totally forget about it - and here are ten reasons I came up with to explain my mistake:

1. I don't trust CVS or Walgreens, because they employ teenagers. I know that the teenagers aren't the ones giving out the flu shot, but I also know how important it is that hypodermic needles be sterile, and if some irresponsible kid, on break from restocking the candy aisle, previously used mine to inject himself with a mixture of heroin and Mountain Dew Code Red, I could end up with something a lot worse than the flu.

2. I can't even remember the last time I got a flu shot, and until now I've always done all right.

3. If I had gotten a flu shot, it would have "worked" (in that I wouldn't have gotten the flu), and as a result of its success, I'd have had to repeat the process the following year, and then (sensibly) the year after that, ultimately dooming myself to a lifetime of annual flu shots, year after year after year, and of hoping that the flu shot will eventually fail and I'll actually get the flu, thus freeing me from this otherwise never-ending obligation.

4. I had other things to do.

5. I like to keep my immune system on its toes. If you baby yourself with vaccines for everything (like the flu), you give your body nothing to do, nothing to fight off, and eventually you become weak, so when a disease finally comes around that you haven't been vaccinated against, you don't have the capacity to defend yourself. (This view is almost certainly wrong, but it's something I feel.)

6. Aren't flu shots mostly just for old people, sick people, and babies? (As it turns out, no.)

7. Isn't the flu shot itself strong enough occasionally to inflict the flu upon its recipients? (As it turns out, no. People who happen to come down with a cold - or whatever - after receiving the shot usually just tend to blame the vaccine, which can have some mild side effects but is basically harmless.)

8. What is "the flu" anyway?

9. I guess I typically operate under the principle that it's better to burden myself physically with the occasional medical problem than it is to burden myself mentally with precautions, doctor's appointments, and thoughts of illness. It may be better to spend 51 weeks a year pretending that illness does not exist at all and then one week being ill than to spend 52 weeks a year calling doctor's offices, scheduling appointments, remembering to keep them, washing hands frequently, taking vitamins, avoiding sick people, and dreading illness, even if, under the latter scenario, you never actually get sick.

I'm not sure how long this idiotic strategy - which I'm able to employ only partially, because I do make the occasional doctor's appointment, and I do dread illness despite trying not to think of it at all - will be viable: maybe age 30 is the cutoff, where you have to start accepting that "health" will forever be one of the major concerns of your life and that you must do everything you can to take care of yourself, or else you just die.

10. I forgot.

OK, so all these reasons are really dumb. And I hate being sick: every single time it happens, I am convinced that this is the worst I've ever felt - no illness has ever been this bad. Next winter I'm getting a flu shot. It's not too late for you to get yours.