What to Tell Your Friends Who Won’t Get a Flu Shot

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All but two of the 50 states are now reporting widespread flu activity, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccination is the best way to slow its spread, but as of mid-November, only 37 percent of Americans had received their annual flu shot.

In an attempt to increase that number, two Vanderbilt University physicians, Thomas Talbot and H. Keipp Talbot, have just posted a set of talking points on the website of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Their aim is to give physicians pithy comebacks to patients who give uninformed or nonsensical answers to the question: “Why haven’t you gotten a flu shot?”

Friends, co-workers or family members who ask the same question, and hear the same excuses, may also find their replies useful. A few examples:

Excuse: “The vaccine does not work.”

Reply: This year’s vaccine reduces the risk of an acute respiratory illness by 62 percent. While a more effective one would be wonderful, “this should not be a reason to neglect the current vaccine.”

Excuse: “The vaccine causes the flu.”

Reply: An urban myth. Simply not true.

Excuse: “I never get the flu.”

Reply: “This rationale neglects one of the major reasons vaccination is recommended. While some people, such as healthy adults, may not develop a classic, severe influenza-like illness when infected (and a substantial proportion may have minimal to no symptoms), they likely can still transmit the virus to others.”

In other words, even if you don’t get sick yourself, you can quite easily become a carrier, passing the illness to everyone from your kids to the guy ahead of you in line at the grocery store. Seen in this light, not getting a flu shot isn’t just foolish; it’s also selfish. So do it. Now.

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