Tough decision

It’s time for the annual flu vaccination dilemma, compounded this year by the addition of the H1N1 flu vaccine. Now, normally I’m all for getting my shot. I’m in the high risk group (asthma) so it’s not a problem to get it and, while I know that it won’t provide 100% protection, I figure that anything that reduces my risk of flu is worth it.

In the last fifteen years, I have missed my shot three times. Last winter it was because I had not sorted out a GP in time and my work program finished just before I started here. A few years previously I was out of the country for a lot of October and early November. When I finally got in for my shot (pretty much the last day that anyone anywhere was offering it), they refused because I had a horrendous cold and they never adminster it if you’re already sick. As I took three weeks getting over that cold, I conceded their point. Miraculously, I didn’t get flu either time although that year became The Year of the Cold, when I succeeded in getting nine colds in twelve months and calculated that I spent two weeks out of every six for the entire year feeling like death warmed over.

Prior to that, the only other time that I have missed my shot since I was sixteen was due to having a bad dose of flu at the time my shot should have been given. I managed to come down with it a week before my appointment and I was only just starting to eat and wobble unsteadily around the house on the day. It took me six weeks to get over that dose of flu, largely because I have a bad habit of getting post-viral fatigue after flu. By the time I was judged strong enough to have the shot, everyone had run out.

The reason I started getting the flu shot was because, two years running, I lost January and a good chunk of February to flu and post-viral fatigue. Those were my GCSE years and I missed my mocks due to it. I couldn’t afford to miss my A-level mocks (particularly doing modular maths), so we found out that I was entitled to a shot due to my asthma and I’ve kept up the routine ever since. And, apart from the year that I caught flu a week before my shot, I haven’t had flu since.

Trust me, when you’ve had it once then you can never mistake a cold for flu again. I’ve had flu four times that I remember (once when I was seven) and I’d like to avoid doing that ever again.

So I know that I will have the regular seasonal flu shot because it’s the sensible thing to do. My asthma is mainly virus (and exercise) induced and all my bad attacks have been while I was sick. My odds of respiratory infection on top of flu are high and my track record of post-viral fatigue is not encouraging.

The question is whether I should have the H1N1 flu vaccine. So far it’s been a mild illness for the majority, with mortality rates no higher (and possibly lower) than the usual seasonal flu. Every doctor’s blog that I follow is advocating against it for various reasons:

1. Insufficient testing
2. It is based on a vaccine that previously caused neurological problems and nobody is addressing this
3. If the second wave is more virulent, that will be because the virus has mutated slightly and the vaccine is unlikely to work against the second wave

All of those are concerns that I share and my knowledge of the flu virus and its mutation patterns (from my year studying microbiology including virology at uni) certainly tie in with those concerns. Flu is a tricksy bastard and you have to get really specific with the vaccine. The lack of testing and the uncertainty over proper dosages makes me leary of having it anywhere near me. If it stays mild then, should I catch it, I will probably end up less sick than I would from my usual seasonal flu. If it mutates and becomes more serious then I probably would not be protected by the vaccine.

If anyone can point me towards one really good, solid, scientific reason for why I should take the H1N1 vaccine, I would love to hear it. For now, I shall probably accept my trusty seasonal flu vaccine and refuse the H1N1. Then I will hope that I stay flu-free this year because I’m even less certain about the advisability of taking Tamiflu (it shortens the duration by 1 day and people think this is a cure? And nobody really knows the long-term side-effects? Yeah, I’m gonna rush out for that) than I am about the vaccine.

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