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Don’t go looking for reasons not to get a flu shot: It works

If you're not offering an on-site clinic for employees, put it on your 2019 to-do list
REUTERS/Karoly Arvai/Files

By Todd Humber

Roll up your sleeves, Canada – it’s flu shot season.

The shots are now available at clinics, doctor’s offices and pharmacies. Many employers also offer on-site flu shots so it’s even easier for employees to be immunized — which is a pretty smart move and an easy business case to approve.

Unless you have a legitimate allergy to the shot (and forget that egg allergy myth), or some other condition that puts you at risk, there’s really no reason not to get it.

This advice, posted by cardiologist Jay Udell on the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada’s website, is perfect: “This is a no brainer. You don’t have to ask your doctor first. Don’t look for a reason not to get it.”

Yet too many people search for reasons not to, and you don’t need to dig very deep to find plenty of scary theories as to why you should keep your sleeves firmly rolled down.

That point was driven home in a column that appeared last week in theToronto Sun and other newspapers, written by Ken Walker — a doctor who uses the pseudonym W. Gifford-Jones. He raised questions about the safety of vaccines, and said he himself relies on “high daily doses of vitamin C to build up my immune system.”

Which, more power to him, but it’s not a substitute for the flu shot.

At the top of the list of conspiracy theories is a link between vaccines and autism — theories have been floating around for decades now about a link between vaccines and developing autism.

It started with a 1998 study published in a British medical journal that found a correlation between MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism. But the study was found to be completely false, was retracted by the journal and later studies proved no difference in autism rates whatsoever when it comes to vaccines. But the conspiracy theory remains.

Others are convinced they will get sick soon after getting the shot. No doubt this happens, but there’s also little doubt it is coincidental. It is impossible to get the flu from the vaccine — to make a long story short, it doesn’t contain the live virus. But it does teach your body how to fight off the real thing.

Yes, some people do get aches or a slight fever in the days following immunization — which experts suspect is the body reacting to the foreign substance in your body, and is still very much preferable to getting the flu itself.

Is the flu shot perfect? No. Influenza strains are unpredictable, and the scientists behind the cocktail don’t always guess correctly. Flu shots protect against the three strains they predict will be dominant in the 2018-2019 season, and it still typically works 60 per cent of the time, according to Udell. Those are pretty good odds.

These numbers from Alberta Health Services tell the true toll — influenza is responsible for more emergency department visits than strokes and was the cause of 62 deaths in the province last year.

The flu isn’t something to play around with — and there is no logical reason not to be immunized. It is free. It is effective. It can save your life, and prevent you from transmitting it to others.

I signed up for my employer’s on-site clinic. I’d urge you to do the same if your employer offers one, or find time to visit a local pharmacy, clinic or your doctor to be immunized.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber
Todd Humber is the publisher of Canadian Occupational Safety.
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