If you could take an inexpensive pill once a year that would help prevent all forms of cancer and has zero side effects, you'd probably consider it. Well, that's what a flu shot has the potential to do. It's a simple annual vaccine that will go a long way in protecting you from getting terribly sick for days, if not weeks, during which you cannot work, focus, fulfill your household duties, hang out with family members and friends, and enjoy life as usual. But immunizing yourself against influenza isn't just about beating the flu. A mere one to two weeks of an inflammatory storm, which is what will take place in your body if you contract the flu, can harm you in ways that increase your lifetime risk for obesity and many illnesses, including heart attack, strokes, and cancer.
For years now the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have recommended flu vaccines for anyone with heart disease because it's been shown to prevent fatal heart attacks and strokes and even reduce the risk of death from any illness. In 2012, a study emerged showing that pregnant women who suffer through the flu have a significantly increased risk of having a child with autism. So imagine what the vaccine can do for a healthy individual hoping to avoid all these ills. (An idea: since we know the flu shot can lessen the risk for obesity, perhaps we should campaign for it by saying it will keep you thin! How many people would show up at the immunization clinic?) Sadly, people still cling to false notions that the flu vaccine has side effects, that it doesn't work, that it can cause the flu, or that it contains toxins or poisons. Malarkey. Most disturbing of all is that the people who seem to harbor these irrational notions are often the most educated. To say "I never get a flu shot and I never get the flu" is like declaring "I eat cheeseburgers and fries every day, don't exercise, and I've never gotten fat or had a heart attack."
There is nothing heroic about resisting the flu shot and then powering through the flu if you contract it. Influenza kills as many as forty-five thousand Americans a year, and the vaccine reduces deaths, illnesses, the use of antibiotics, and the number of hospital visits. Getting the shot isn't just about you; it can greatly lessen the burdens on our health-care system and can protect the most vulnerable of all-infants, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems-who cannot benefit from the shot the way most of us can. To hear that fewer than 40 percent of us get an annual flu shot is maddening. Who wants to be blamed for fueling an epidemic and killing young children? I rest my case.
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