September is the official Childhood Cancer Awareness month. It may not get as much attention as its cousin, October, known for its Pinksplosion of frilly ribbons recognizing the importance of Breast Cancer Awareness, research, prevention, and ultimately the cure. However, both months have touched my family personally.
Not long after moving to the Rocket City I met a great friend whose son would later be taken from a rare incurable brain cancer. And then, one year ago, at 38 years-old, with no family history, I was diagnosed with stage 3, triple positive invasive breast cancer after finding a small lump. So our family goes GOLD for September and PINK for October.
Today, I want to talk about one thing many of us can do that help these causes and more. I’m not asking you to march, open your checkbook or whip-up a Pinterest worthy pink tutu.
I WANT YOU TO GET A FLU SHOT!
I want you to post that you got it, share with friends and family about who is running the best deal on flu shots, and help make flu shots trend on social media. (Tip: Publix has a special where they will file with your insurance and give you a $10 gift card to use with each flu shot!)
I’m asking not just as a cancer survivor who spent last winter fearing for my life when I had to go out in public spaces, but also as a Family Nurse practitioner who knows the facts about flu shots. I highly recommend all of my patients get one.
And yes, I have diagnosed several cases of flu in North Alabama this month already.
Flu Shots are Far from Perfect.
Yes, some people will still get the flu, even with a shot. Typically, the flu is milder for these individuals leading to less missed work and school. The flu vaccine reduced children’s risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admission by 74% during flu seasons from 2010-2012. Another study published in the summer of 2016 showed that people 50 years and older who got a flu vaccine reduced their risk of getting hospitalized from flu by 57%.
It’s important to arm yourself with data because we all know that one mom on Facebook who will loudly state that her children got the flu from the shot (scientifically impossible) or that one coworker who never gets the vaccine and has never gotten so much as a sniffle in 15 years. I recommend you look at journal articles in scientific publications if you want to get to the truth. Or, you know, listen to me because I’m a licensed professional.
Not all Flu Shots are Created Equal.
Ask to get the quadrivalent flu vaccine that contains two strains of influenza A and two strains of influenza B. Some places only offer the trivalent which contains two influenza A strains and one influenza B. Coverage of four strains is better than three. And three is better than zero if you can’t get the quad.
Some people will also question the chemicals in the vaccine. If you have concerns about thimiserol or other preservatives that used to be used in multi-dose flu shots you can relax. I called around to CVS, Publix, and Walgreens. They all offer preservative-free single-dose vials of flu vaccine. So does Huntsville Hospital System, and most pediatricians and Urgent Care Clinics. Single-dose vials are kept refrigerated and are only used one time each so there is no need to add in chemicals to preserve them.
Mourning the Mist
Gone are the days where parents can rely on the flu mist – it’s needle or nothing now after extensive studies proved the mist to be drastically less effective (3% compared to 63%). Sadly, this has caused a big decrease in the number of families taking their kids to be vaccinated. I suggest you channel your inner 80’s kid and suck it up – there is lots of advice on how to soothe kids of all ages HERE and they’ll survive the shot. Another option is to purchase a $5 Shotblocker device if you have a super needle-phobic kiddo. They’ve been known to help.
It Takes a Village
Remember, a cancer survivor and practicing nurse is asking you to do this for the vulnerable people around you. Moms with cancer still have to go to dance recitals and kids with cancer still have to go to school. On behalf of them, I thank you for choosing to support the rainbow of colorful ribbons representing all cancers, cardiopulmonary conditions, diabetes and immune-lowering diseases. It’s the absolute best thing you – and your kids – can do to help keep them safe.
The flu vaccine is recommended for all people age 6 months and older who are medically able to be vaccinated, including pregnant women and nursing moms. Visit the CDC website and talk to your doctor if you are unsure. More information on the research mentioned in this article can be found here.
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