December 18, 2012
Welcome to the new, virtually painless flu shot.
Because scientists recognize that the majority of us are big babies and would rather suffer one to two weeks of viral misery than two seconds of sting and a whole day (gasp) of achy arm muscle, they have indulged our request for the most pain free way for us to protect ourselves and our loved ones from a virus that hospitalizes thousands every year.
What Makes This Vaccine Different?
The new needle hardly needs to penetrate the skin. Whereas most needles go down deep into muscle (hence the inability to raise your arm without wincing the day after the shot) this new needle punctures the topmost layer of your epidermis, where it releases its non-threatening viral residue directly to the immune system. My mom took my younger, special needs sister to get the shot, and told me Ashley seemed more put out by the cold antiseptic wipe than the actual injection. It hurts less than getting your finger pricked for blood (which we all know stings an unreasonable amount).
Why Get A Vaccine At All?
Vaccines are created as a method to prepare the body to fight strains of disease. When a virus, or, in the case of vaccines, a weakened or dead virus, is detected by the immune system, your body assembles an army of cells known as antibodies. These soldiers spread themselves throughout the body, actively seeking out the foreign invader, and when they find them, they latch on, using their flexible bodies to hold onto and employ methods to destroy these viruses, preventing them from infecting healthy cells.
When you catch the live flu, this process is only completed so quickly, so some of the virus is able to get into your system and make you sick before the antibodies can clear it all out. With a vaccine however, these viral cells are not alive, or are weak, and don’t do any damage to your body. Rather, they just float along, waiting to be attacked by antibodies. Once the antibodies have found the virus and assembled into the right shape to kill them, your body will have the instructions to make that antibody forever. So, should you be exposed to somebody with the actual live flu, your body will already be prepared and will take it out before any symptoms develop, so you do not feel sick, and you do not spread the bug to anyone else.
Every year, a new type of flu comes along (sometimes more), and though the body has antibodies for last year’s flu, they are picky individuals, and don’t want to abandon their posts to take on a new virus. This is why you have to get a new flu shot every year, to help the body makes new antibodies for this new flu. So, every time you get a shot, your body is getting better and better at fighting different viruses as it builds its antibody intelligence.
But Christina, I never get sick…
There is something the CDC (Center for Disease Control) has termed “high risk individuals.” These are people who, for many reasons, are more likely to not be able to fight off the flu when they get it. If you are like me, a healthy college student, and you get the flu without having a vaccine, you will feel like crap for a couple of days and then recover. For others, like my special needs sister, it is harder to assemble those antibodies quickly and effectively enough before the virus has spread through the body and done major damage. The flu often develops into other conditions if it isn’t knocked out quickly enough, including asthma attacks, bronchitis, pneumonia, and congestive heart failure. Every year, hospitals fill up in the fall and winter months with people who have gotten the flu, and because their bodies couldn’t fight it off well enough, have developed major, life threatening illness.
So, even if you are not high risk, if you carry the flu (let’s say you get the virus and haven’t been feeling sick yet and you decide to shake a bunch of people’s hands) you can potentially spread it to someone who is.
Here is a list provided by the CDC of high risk individuals:
-Children under age 5, especially under 2.
-Anyone with neurological and neurodevelopmental disorders (so those with special needs, epilepsy, strokes, and paralysis or spinal chord damage, just to name a few)
-Those with chronic lung disease or heart disease; endocrine, liver, blood, and kidney disorders
-Those with asthma
-Anyone with a weakened immune system due to medication or illness (such as HIV, cancer, and various immune disorders)
-Those with diabetes
-Anyone with metabolic or mitochondrial disorders
So, if you fall into at least one of those categories, or know someone who does (and let’s be honest, we all come in contact with someone high-risk just by leaving our front doors), you have a responsibility to get the flu vaccine not only for yourself, but for everyone around you. And now, with this itty bitty, teeny tiny needle, it won’t even hurt.