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Should I get the H1N1 vaccination?
October 25, 2009 5:38 PM   Subscribe

Is it really worth getting the H1N1 flu shot?

First of all, I trust the medical system and doctors in general, and understand the need to vaccinate the general public against this new flu, as well as other seasonal flus.

However, I've heard that it is possible to get slightly sick as a result of the H1N1 flu vaccination, which is something I don't want to experience.

I've never actual had the flu before. Although I am susceptible to chest colds each winter, I've never experienced influenza, ever.

I live in an area that has been identified as an H1N1 "hotbed", and I do a lot of business travel, and have been traveling a lot this fall, and am therefore in a lot of situation where I could be exposed to the H1N1 virus. I have a child in elementary school, who could also act as a vector.

I have also worked as a teacher in the past, and when 15-20% of students stayed home sick because of the "flu", I always thought it was an exaggeration - I was so ignorant of the flu that I thought they must have a common cold - but I never came down with the virus.

I suspect I may be immune to the flu. Do I still need to get a vaccination?
posted by KokuRyu to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
You're in Japan, so I don't know what the supply situation is like there. Here in the US, the vaccine is in short supply and for the moment they're trying to limit use to children and young adults who are immune challenged or who have lung problems.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:46 PM on October 25, 2009


From the CDC. If you are in one of these groups, then you should get vaccinated.

Who is at higher risk of influenza related complications?

Groups at higher risk for influenza related complications from 2009 H1N1 are similar to those at higher risk for seasonal influenza complications and include: children younger than 5 years old (risk is highest in children younger than 2 years old); adults 65 years of age and older, pregnant women, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (for example, asthma, diabetes, lung disease, people with weakened immune systems, etc.) and people younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy. Children 2-4 years of age are at somewhat higher risk of hospitalization from 2009 H1N1 and seasonal flu compared to older children, and for seasonal flu and have high rates of outpatient and emergency department visits for influenza.

posted by zippy at 5:48 PM on October 25, 2009


You can get slightly sick from the nasal spray vaccine, which is attenuated live virus. The shot is killed virus, and will not make you ill.

Flu is really quite nasty. It pretty much knocks you out. It is not like a cold, or even a bad cold.

Are there people immune to the flu in general? I'm not aware that that's the case.

Make your own choice (obviously), but you seem to be saying that you'd rather risk being penny wise and pound foolish.
posted by OmieWise at 5:49 PM on October 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


The shot is killed virus, and will not make you ill.

Any vaccine, even one with no live component, will inspire a brief immune response. That is its function, after all. Certain physical symptoms often accompany that immune response such as fever. It only lasts a few hours, but it is not uncommon to feel a bit wretched during that period. (It depends on the person.)

As to people 65 and older being vulnerable, that's simply because their health is less good on average. However, epidemiologically speaking, this H1N1 has been strange in that it hasn't been killing old people at the kinds of rates that flu usually does. The theory is that a long time ago a closely related strain went around, and old people who were exposed to it still have some degree of immunity.

Old people have been dying, but not at the usual rates. The deaths have been disproportionately among the young.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:57 PM on October 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


"The Flu" is thousands of different viruses, which is why there are new vaccinations every year. You can't be "immune to the flu" because there are so many different kinds. In particular, H1N1 is quite different from the slightly-varied seasonal flus that go around each year, so even if you were somewhat less susceptible to influenzas of the past, that's no guarantee that this one wouldn't hit you.

This year is the first year I've gotten a flu shot, and I'll tell you why: last year is the first time I ever got the flu, and I was SO FREAKING MISERABLE. It's not like having a really bad cold. It's worse. Think of the very worse hangover you've ever had, and how you felt so awful you just wished you could be unconscious, and the worst part was that you know you could have prevented it. Though the symptoms are different, having the flu brings that same anguish of desperately wishing it would be over, and desperately wishing you had done the responsible thing so you wouldn't be suffering like this.

Throw in the possibility that flu can kill people, even people who are otherwise healthy, and you really don't want to find yourself in an "if only I had just gotten the shot" situation. Think not just of the misery for yourself, but how you would feel if you got the flu and passed it to your child or someone else you loved.

If you're concerned about getting "slightly sick" from the vaccination, ask your health care provider for information about the odds of that happening, and the symptoms. Don't trust crap you read from excitable folks on the internet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reliable information, if there's nobody you can talk to at your clinic.
posted by vytae at 5:58 PM on October 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


There are many people on this earth who are immunocompromised for one reason or another. They may be recovering from chemotherapy, or have a disorder that requires immunosuppresants as part of the treatment regimen.

People in this group can't get flu shots, and a bout with the flu can be enough to cause hospitalization or even death. They have to rely on herd immunity. For their sake, if not your own, get the shot if it is available.
posted by chrisamiller at 6:08 PM on October 25, 2009 [14 favorites]


KokuRyu: However, I've heard that it is possible to get slightly sick as a result of the H1N1 flu vaccination, which is something I don't want to experience.

Think about it for a moment. The disincentive for you – the thing you don't want – is to become slightly sick.

If you don't get the vaccination, then you run the risk of coming down not just with "slightly" sick, but with "deeply nasty" sick, i.e., the full-blown H1N1.

Given that what you are trying to avoid is feeling sick, and given that it would take a phenomenal number of lucky rolls of the dice for you to not be exposed, I really think your most optimal choice here is to get the vaccination – especially since you may be fine post-vaccination. Not everyone gets slightly ill post-vaccination.
posted by WCityMike at 6:09 PM on October 25, 2009


If it's available, get it. It's kind of a no-brainer, really. I'm desperately trying to get one and I'm in a high-risk group. My doctor hasn't had any for weeks and our local health department is only doing school vaccine clinics at the moment.

So, if you're lucky enough to have access, get it.
posted by cooker girl at 6:31 PM on October 25, 2009


If you want to get the bejeezus scared out of you, read Flu Story: A Pregnant Woman’s Ordeal.

One of my wife's coworkers had swine flu. She's not pregnant and she didn't end up in a coma in the hospital for four months, but she did say it was about the most unpleasant thing she'd ever experienced. Her description started, "Imagine a 300 pound person sitting on your chest for a week..." and went on from there.
posted by alms at 6:36 PM on October 25, 2009


You can get slightly sick from the nasal spray vaccine, which is attenuated live virus. The shot is killed virus, and will not make you ill.

Anecdotally, I got the nasal spray vaccine this past Thursday and did not develop any symptoms of illness (some report mild flu-like symptoms, since as mentioned above, the nasal spray is live virus grown for multiple generations in a non-human host, which tempers its virulence in humans).

You say you believe you may be immune to the flu, but keep in mind that there are MANY different strains of virus that cause flu, accounting for the need to re-vaccinate every year with a different "flu shot," which provides protection against the strains predicted to be in circulation that year.

And of course, even if you've developed some immunity to other flu strains, you are very likely not immune to H1N1. A professor of mine was saying that H1N1 hasn't made the rounds in almost a half-century, which may account for its overwhelming virulence in the young and relative lack of impact in older people (opposite the usual pattern for the flu). Those 50 and older are thought to have been exposed to related strains in the past, while those of us younger than that are completely H1N1-naive.

Bottom line: you don't NEED an H1N1 immunization -- it causes a nasty illness but isn't life-threatening unless you have multiple other health issues in the background -- but you might be well-advised to get vaccinated if there are doses available where you are.
posted by killdevil at 6:45 PM on October 25, 2009


There has been a lot of advice here not to necessarily trust excitable people on the internet, and instead consult with your health care professional, but it seems to me that you're looking for personal accounts of H1N1 vaccination and any corresponding symptoms/sickness experiences. My n is 1, and I sure ain't no doctor, but to paraphrase Dr. Weird: Now spray it in your nose, cause that's how it happened to me!

I got the nasal spray which is, as stated previously, an attenuated live virus. My personal experience is confounded by the fact that I also received a standard issue (if there is such a thing) flu shot. The spray was administered on Monday afternoon, and Tuesday evening around 7pm, I started to feel pretty bad. I had trouble focusing, some nausea (though I didn't vomit), and a vague, non-specific feeling of general 'sickness.' I laid down, drank some tea, and listened to relaxing music. Two hours later, I was was pretty much back to normal, and when I woke up in the morning, all feelings of sickness were a distant memory.

I thought it was an odd reaction because in the past, whenever I've been vaccinated, if I developed any symptoms, they were extremely low grade and distributed over the course of a day or two. I will say, the two hours during which I felt sick pretty much sucked. I felt shitty. Not as bad as the flu makes you feel (which is damn awful), but worse than a serious hangover. Not a "oh, man, I shouldn't have had that fourth beer" hangover, but rather a "I didn't know that it was even possible for a dude my size to drink a bottle of red wine and six shots of tequila" hangover.

Was it worth it? Hell yes. Two of my colleagues have fallen ill with H1N1. One of them said he felt worse than I described for two days, and then had mild symptoms for the next six. The other was completely bedridden for a solid week and unpleasantly ill for an additional week and a half. I can deal with a damn lot for two hours if it means skipping more than two weeks of hell. I would do it over in a heartbeat, even if it was feeling twice as bad for twice as long.

If you have access to the vaccine, take it.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:14 PM on October 25, 2009


There are many people on this earth who are immunocompromised for one reason or another. They may be recovering from chemotherapy, or have a disorder that requires immunosuppresants as part of the treatment regimen.

People in this group can't get flu shots [...]


Sure they can. It may even be highly recommended, though everyone's situation is different of course.
posted by mathlete at 7:51 PM on October 25, 2009


I think a lot of people misunderstand that one of the important reasons for getting vaccinated is that it reduces - when done on a mass scale - the number of vectors through which the virus can spread throughout society. It's not just about individuals getting sick - or about not getting sick yourself - it's about making a concerted, society-wide effort to limit the effects of H1N1 for everyone.

Many countries have a full supply for the whole population - that's true in Canada and I believe I heard on the weekend that it was true for most of Europe - so if Japan is in that situation, I would definitely get vaccinated. I plan to, for sure, and I'm not a guy who ever gets sick or worries about regular seasonal flu at all.
posted by mikel at 7:55 PM on October 25, 2009


Sure they can. It may even be highly recommended, though everyone's situation is different of course.

Let me make myself more clear - not everyone who is in one of these groups will be unable to get flu shots, but there are high-risk groups who are unable to get vaccinated and for whom the flu is potentially life-threatening.

As an example, here's the story of a mother who's son has leukemia. She can't send him son to daycare because some of the children are unvaccinated.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:09 PM on October 25, 2009


My healthy mid-twenties daughter got H1N1 this spring. Very quickly, she developed a severe lung infection along with all the usual flu symptoms. She was really sick for a good two weeks and blah for a couple after that. Her doc did a culture to make sure of what she had, and ordered the right meds just in case. I'm glad he did because her cough ended up in something like severe bronchitis/mild pneumonia a day later.
posted by x46 at 8:36 PM on October 25, 2009


There's a slim chance you might feel off after getting it and honestly I cant tell if thats just psychosomatic at this point thanks to all the nutters who argue with me about flu shots. Last year I got a little fatigue, which is something I am prone to normally, and just wrote it up to my immune system busy making antibodies for the dead flu strains injected into my body.

If youve never had the flu then you're going to be in for a surprise when you get it. Unlike a cold its painful. You hurt from your feet to your teeth. Yes, your teeth will hurt. You get body aches that keep you awake at night even though youre 100% miserable and exhausted. You sit there in bed not believing science doesnt have a cure for something so terrible, until you remember and subsequently kick yourself for not getting the vaccine.

Now, thats just the normal flu. H1N1 has a much higher chance of killing people under 25. Not to mention if you get vaccinated then there's no chance of you getting sick and spreading it to others. That right there should make people think long and hard about their reluctance to get it.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:16 PM on October 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yes, it's a really good idea to get any vaccination you can get your hands on. For personal reasons and for herd immunity reasons.

This flu especially, because it seems to be the kind of flu that is more harmful to the stronger among us. Something about how it works makes the immune system go into overdrive, so the stronger the immune system, the sicker you get. In theory.

Also, being "immune" to something doesn't necessarily mean that you won't get sick at all. It just means that your body has a head start at fighting the virus when it encounters it. So if you get a lungful of H1N1 and you have been vaccinated, you might feel like garbage for a day. As opposed to the unvaccinated, who will wish they were dead for a week or so.

I get the regular flu shot just about every year. The year I didn't, I got the flu. And it was awful. The flu shot usually makes my arm sore, and like clockwork, it will make me feel like I'm getting sick for about 4 hours a day or two later. And then that's it.
posted by gjc at 10:17 PM on October 25, 2009


Not to mention if you get vaccinated then there's no chance of you getting sick and spreading it to others.

Well, there's much less chance. The vaccine isn't 100% effective.

However, I've heard that it is possible to get slightly sick as a result of the H1N1 flu vaccination, which is something I don't want to experience.

I think you are vastly overestimating what "slightly sick" means in this context, assuming you're talking about the shot and not the nasal spray thingie. I never feel a thing from flu vaccines and, worst case, you're talking about a very slight fever for a couple hours. I think it would be fair to characterize what can happen from the live virus nasal spray as getting slightly sick which is why I generally avoid those.

But as long as you are getting the shot, I think worrying about getting "sick" is baseless and mostly the result of internet fearmongering.

I suspect I may be immune to the flu.

You are not.

Do I still need to get a vaccination?

"Need"? I'm not sure how to address that. You don't need it in the sense that you probably won't die without it (although you might) but it will reduce the risk of severe problems greatly and it's just part of being a good and responsible citizen and human being. Not getting vaccinated once enough vaccine is available for everyone is irresponsible so in that sense you do "need" to get vaccinated.
posted by Justinian at 10:31 PM on October 25, 2009


OmieWise: The shot is killed virus, and will not make you ill.

Chocolate Pickle: Any vaccine, even one with no live component, will inspire a brief immune response. That is its function, after all.

Yes, but that's not the point. The point is that there's a widespread urban legend that you have a slim chance of getting sick from any vaccine. This is simply not true in the case of inert vaccines; there is absolutely no chance of infection in the case of H1N1 injection vaccine. People need to understand that; they are not risking getting sick. The only thing they're risking is, as you say, a few hours of discomfort during which their body is fooled into thinking they've been infected. The actual infection is flatly impossible.
posted by koeselitz at 2:14 AM on October 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


[comments removed - keep your sarcasm out of here, period, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 3:00 PM on October 28, 2009


Thanks for all of your information. We will line up with everyone else and get our H1N1 shots (we're in BC, Canada).

As an update, my wife asked our family doctor what HE would do, and he said he himself was confused about the H1N1 shot, and whether or not to get it.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:07 PM on October 28, 2009


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