Shots, Sniffles, and the Santa Fe Trail

January 14, 2011 | Health Advice | By: Matt Kaiser

I was traveling in Washington DC a few years ago and one of the gentlemen I was meeting with, mentioning I had a “southern drawl,” asked where I was from.  “I grew up in Kansas,” I replied.  He opened his eyes in wonder that this Midwesterner standing before him had successfully navigated the crowds of the east coast to meet him in a downtown DC coffee shop.  Without the slightest hint of humor or sarcasm in his voice, he looked at me straight in the eyes and asked, “Do you guys really still travel in wagons and see Indians?”  I chuckled, gently corrected him and asked where he got such an idea.  He said he had seen a line of horse drawn wagons and people dressed in cowboy hats and chaps on television recently and the reporter said they were travelling to Dodge City.  I did a little research and found out he was talking about a wagon train club that takes a week every summer and travels the Santa Fe trail.

What in the world does this have to do with the flu vaccine!?!?!!

Like that well meaning gentleman in Washington who took a little bit of truth and made an assumption about Kansans travelling in horse-drawn wagons, there are many myths about the flu-vaccine that are out there!

Why should I even get a flu shot? It’s only for old folks!

This year the CDC is recommending that everyone age 6 months or older get a flu shot. Even if you are the picture of health, your flu shot can help protect the other more vulnerable people in the community by preventing the spread of the virus!  The shot can be especially important for people with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or heart disease for example.  These patients are at increased risk for developing complications from influenza such as pneumonia, sinus infections, or even inflammation of the sac that holds the heart.

But I just got one last year!

So here is the obnoxious thing about influenza.  The virus mutates every year so the particular strain of influenza your immune system recognized and protected you from last year has changed and now your body’s defenses no longer recognize this year’s flu strain as the enemy.  Each year the FDA studies what flu strains will likely be circulation this flu season and recommends what strains to include in the flu shot.    This year’s single flu shot will cover the H1N1 strain we heard so much about last year, as well as 2 other strains. So get the flu shot this year!  You immune system may not recognize this year’s influenza strain until you get poked in the arm!

Ok, but can’t you get the flu from the flu shot?


The influenza vaccine contains only dead virus.  The virus has been killed and is very, very, very dead and therefore cannot infect you!  We all have stories of that person (or maybe you) who got sick after their shot, but this can be easily explained.  The vaccine only protects against the influenza virus and NOT other viruses that cause sniffles, coughs, diarrhea, and vomiting.  People who get sick after their flu shot were infected with these other viruses, not the flu virus.  These people would have gotten sick regardless of whether they got the flu shot or not.  The flu shot simply cannot cause the flu.  It’s dead!

The flu shot doesn’t work!

The influenza vaccine should prevent the flu 70-90% of the time when the vaccine strains in the shot are a good match with the flu strains that are floating around Rooks County. Research each year goes into predicting what strains will be in the community each year and the strains of flu in the shot are chosen accordingly.   The experts are usually pretty good at predicting what flu strains will be around in a given year.  The Center for Disease Control reports that 16 of the last 20 flu seasons have had good matches between the shot and the circulating flu strains.  So you can get the flu shot knowing that it works pretty well!!!

So I guess there are a few people who still travel in Kansas in Conestoga wagons, but just like only a few people getting sick from another virus at the time of their flu shot, the myths don’t always reflect reality.  The flu shot, while not the magic bullet for curing your every sniffle, sneeze, and ache this flu season, is a safe and effective way to protect yourself and others this fall and winter!  Stop by and get one, it may not be exactly like you think!