There was a time when I tried to read several medical journals, or at least the highlights. Now, mostly due to time constraints and probably some laziness, Iíve pretty much become a New England Journal of Medicine snob, and thatís mostly it: That and the occasional summary flier.
Thus, it was interesting to receive the following poem from a reader, Irving Rosenfeld, who found it in the Journal of the American Medical Association, one of the journals I used to read religiously but have since kicked to the curb.
The poem is titled ďMyth DispelledĒ by Adam Possner and appeared in the Dec. 5 edition.
The flu vaccine cannot
give you the flu, I tell him.
Itís dead virus, thereís
nothing alive about it.
It canít make you sick.
Thatís a myth.
But if we bury it in the grassy knoll
of your shoulder,
an inch under the stratum
corneum, as sanctioned by
in a white-coated ceremony
presided over by
my medical assistant
and then mark the grave
with a temporary
the trivalent spirit
of that vaccine
has a 70 to 80 percent
chance of warding off
the Evil One,
and thatís the Godís
Actually, I think this yearís vaccine has about a 60 percent effective match, which is still good, and due to the severity of the season, everybody who can get vaccinated should. Itís so not too late!
Over the past 25 flu seasons, Iíve gotten vaccinated every year except one and have gotten the ďfluĒ twice. Hereís the story: The first year of the 25-year cycle, I was doing my medical internship in Greenville back in the day when there was no limitation on working hours and the 100-hour-plus workweek was not uncommon.
Too busy to worry about anything except work and sleep, I neglected to get vaccinated. So guess what? I got the flu, the real deal with high fever and body aches as if being run over by Jadeveon Clowney.
Medical training was a little different back then, and there was the unwritten rule jokingly observed among fellow residents that the only valid excuse to miss work was a death in the immediate family. Reading between the lines, ďimmediate familyĒ was actually defined as you, the intern, and that your own personal death would be a valid excuse, maybe, although you still might be expected to show up the following day.
Other interns were already stretched, and one would never impose if at all possible. So I dragged myself around the hospital and somehow survived, and, thankfully, the patients did as well.
Fast forward a decade or so and Iím in practice on James Island, when suddenly I realized that I needed a flu shot. The only problem was I had a head cold at the time and didnít feel particularly well, but insisted on getting the shot anyway.
ďWhat? Youíre crazy!Ē fellow physicians and nursing staff objected in unison. ďYouíre going down,Ē they said.
I didnít believe it. Itís a dead virus, I argued. Isnít that what everybody says? Iíll be fine. ďGive me the shot,Ē I ordered one of the nurses.
Reluctantly, she did as told and, honey, let me tell you what. Within a matter of hours, I was having hard chills and stumbling around like the town drunk going through DTís.
Lord have mercy!
Iíll never make that mistake again. The immune system was already revved up and the introduction of yet another unwelcome agent into the system made the whole thing go haywire.
In fact, itís the immune response that helps contribute to one feeling so badly, to the extent that when it goes up, the patient goes down. Everybody was right (except me), dammit all!
Consequently, Iím now convinced that most people who have had prior reactions to dead viral flu shots probably got vaccinated when they shouldnít have, as I did. If youíre feeling well and donít have an egg allergy, you really shouldnít have any difficulty. (Live attenuated flu vaccines are still offered under certain circumstances, but thatís another subject.)
Medical University of South Carolina employees have one of two choices: Get vaccinated or wear a mask for several months. (Donning a single white sequined glove with the mask would be optional.)
Suddenly, all these people who claimed to have a flu shot allergy have decided theyíre not so allergic after all and are getting vaccinated.
And guess what? No problems, at least none that Iíve heard of.
Now, that doesnít mean that there arenít those who have a reaction for no apparent reason. But I would say the incidence is overall uncommon if the vaccine is administered appropriately.
Remember that flu is dangerous and that this seasonís strain is the most virulent in years. Not to be a doomsayer, but also remember history. Thereís no comparison between 1918 and this yearís flu season, but, as I say, it always bears remembering.
Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@ comcast.net.
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