Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does, Part 1: Flu Shots

Image: National Institutes of Health

Welcome to the first installment of “Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does,” a new series on Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s blog. In this series we will highlight Planned Parenthood’s diverse array of services — the ones Jon Kyl doesn’t know about.

If you’re like me, you’ve been scared to get your flu shot ever since seeing that Fox News story about the woman who developed a rare neurological disease after getting a standard flu shot. I’m not even going to link to it here because if you’ve already seen it you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, you don’t want to. Trust me. Go look for it yourself if you want to see it so bad.

It’s not too late to get a flu shot.

Anyway, I hadn’t gotten one for years because I was afraid of being one in a million and contracting Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare, paralyzing illness that causes fever, nerve damage, and muscle weakness. Obviously, as has been pointed out to me by parents, friends, and doctors, the chances of that happening are so small that they aren’t even worth worrying about. Risks from getting the flu, especially if you’re a child or senior, are much more definite. (Furthermore, a 2011 study found no link between GBS and the flu shot.)

Last year I got the flu, and it was so awful that in my fever-induced haze I vowed I would not let it happen again.

You can get a flu shot pretty much anywhere this time of year, including Walgreens, Fry’s, and Safeway. Even Planned Parenthood Arizona carries the flu shot now, and offers them for $20 to both walk-in clients and those who have made an appointment. Because some Planned Parenthood health centers in the state only offer flu shots on certain days of the week, you can call a customer service representative for dates and times at a health center near you (in Phoenix, 602-277-7526; in Tucson, 520-408-7526; and elsewhere in the state, toll-free 855-207-7526).

Flu season starts in September or so, but it’s not too late to get a flu shot. According to flu.gov,

Yearly flu vaccination usually begins in September or as soon as the flu vaccine is available. Vaccination should continue throughout the flu season, into December, January, and beyond. This is because the timing and duration (length) of the flu season varies. While flu outbreaks can happen as early as October, most of the time, influenza activity peaks in January or later.

You can’t get the flu from the flu shot because it is manufactured from an inactivated virus. Once you get the shot, it takes two weeks for it to start working, so stay away from any sneezing people during that time. The shot does not protect people from other things that cause flu-like symptoms, like rhinovirus or other strands of the flu that are not covered by the shot.

The flu shot is seasonal, which means you need to get a new one every year (because the flu virus changes every year). The 2011-2012 flu vaccine protects against two influenza A viruses (H1N1 and H3N2) and an influenza B virus.

A lot of people, like myself, avoid the flu shot for irrational reasons, but there are some people who should not get the shot, or at least talk to a doctor first. Such people include:

  • people with an allergy to eggs
  • people who have had allergic reactions to the flu vaccine in the past
  • people who have had GBS
  • people who have a fever

It is always, always, always a good idea to talk to a doctor before taking any kind of new medicine, and that includes flu shots.

So, finally, after harassing the nurse with lots of paranoid, what-if questions, I got the flu shot. It was, as everyone told me it would be, no big deal. I’m glad I did it, because I’m one of those people who always catches whatever is going around, so hopefully I can avoid some of that this year.

If you’re looking for a place near you to get vaccinated, check out this nifty locator. Or support Planned Parenthood’s dedication to preventive health care and get the flu shot at one of their 13 health centers in Arizona.

Still nervous? Try this article or this one for some reassurance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an FAQ here.

Madelaine Archie wrote for Border Health Care, a blog focusing on health-care issues in the U.S.-Mexico border region.

One thought on “Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does, Part 1: Flu Shots

  1. Madelaine, congratulations on facing your fears and getting the shot! I’ve been putting off boosters, etc., for a long time because I am just so afraid of the pain! One of my New Year’s resolutions is to get over that, though. 🙂

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