Why this journalist wants you to get a flu shot

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DETROIT - There are so many tragedies in this world that we can't do anything to protect our families against. The flu is not one of them.

As a journalist, I usually try to avoid publicly sharing my personal opinion on most issues, but as a public health-educated professional and a mom, I've decided it's important to make an exception this time.

Simply put, I want you to go get a flu shot. Now. As in this minute. And while you're at it, make sure your children, siblings, parents, grandparents and friends have gotten them too.

If you are truly anti-vaccine, this message is not directed at you. I assume that you have a good reason behind your beliefs, and nothing I can write in this forum will change your mind.

But -- if you are a busy, ambivalent, "I never get sick anyway," kind of person, I am begging you, yes, begging you, to go get a flu shot.

Here's why. I don't want you to get the flu. The flu is miserable. Even a relatively "mild" case can leave you sick in bed for days feeling like you got hit by a truck. But I especially don't want you to die from the flu.

Think you're too young or healthy to die from the flu? Tell that to the families of the three 20-somethings in Oakland County who recently died from the flu. Tell that to the more than a dozen otherwise healthy people in their 30s, 40s and 50s currently on life support because of influenza at the University of Michigan Medical Center. I'm sure those patients didn't think they were at risk either. How do I know that? Doctors say the majority of the severely affected patients did not get a flu shot this year.

The predominant strain of influenza circulating in Michigan this year is the H1N1 strain. That's the one that caused the 2009 pandemic. Unlike most flu viruses which hit hardest in the elderly, H1N1 has been found to strike more young, otherwise healthy people.

I don't want you to get it. I don't want to have to come to your house to interview your grieving family if you die from it. I don't want to look at pictures of you with your children in happy times, knowing that now you won't be there to see those kids grow up.

Think I'm being overly dramatic? According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 2009 H1N1 pandemic killed an estimated 284,500 people. But there's a key difference between then and now. In 2009, the seasonal flu shot didn't protect against H1N1. This time it does.

If you won't get a flu shot for yourself, get one so you don't expose other people to the flu. Think of all of the vulnerable people you come into contact with every day -- your children, your parents or grandparents, co-workers with chronic health problems. The list goes on and on.

Babies under the age of six months are too young to be vaccinated against influenza. They are also at high risk for complications from the flu, including death. It's up to everyone else to avoid exposing them to influenza. One infant in central Michigan has already died from the flu this season. That's one too many.

It's true the flu vaccine does not offer 100 percent protection, but this year, it is an excellent match against the strains of influenza we are seeing circulating in the United States right now. Studies show if you get the vaccine and you do still get sick, you will have a much milder case than you would have otherwise.

No one should die from an illness that can be prevented with a shot that costs $25 or is free to most people with health insurance.

I'm tired of excuses. I'm tired of hearing people say they meant to get a flu shot and just didn't have a chance yet. What are you doing right this minute that's more important than saving your life or your child's life or the life of the baby you might expose to the flu?

Stop reading this. Go get your flu shot. You'll thank me later. Or not. I really don't care. I just want you to get a flu shot.

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