This opinion piece originally appeared in The Holland Sentinel. Read the full story here.
As a mom of two young kids and a former pharmacy technician, I’ve always been passionate about vaccinations and have made it a priority to keep my family up to date and protected. But the issue became even more personal about a year ago, when my god daughter Alice was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, a rare form of cancer.
It was November 2018 that my best friends Katy and Jordan were rocked by the news that their 18-month-old daughter Alice had several tumors in her liver that were preventing her body from working properly. I remember walking into the ICU to visit them before Christmas. Alice was in rough shape, and Katy mentioned seeing kids in and out of the ICU with the flu and RSV. She said that she was emotionally exhausted for the parents who held the hands of their children on a ventilator. This was coming from a woman whose daughter was battling cancer.
I couldn’t do much for Alice. A liver donation was out of the question — her liver transplant needed to come from a young child. All I could do was pray, be there for her parents, and get myself and my family completely vaccinated, including the flu shot.
It’s important that people know that the flu shot prepares your immune system to fight influenza, which is a serious respiratory illness. More than 1,300 people may have died of the flu in Michigan in the 2018-19 flu season, according to data from the CDC.
The flu shot does not prevent the stomach flu, which is a completely different virus. The flu shot does not contain a live virus, so it is impossible to get the flu from the flu shot. And while there’s a chance you might still get the flu even if you receive the flu vaccine, it will likely be a shorter illness and one that is far less severe.
Babies under 6 months, people with various auto-immune disorders, cancer patients and even vaccinated elderly people are at risk, as they are unable to receive the vaccine or have a harder time fighting the respiratory flu than a healthy adult.
For herd immunity to work, which is what protects those who are most vulnerable, 90 to 95 percent of people in a given community need to be vaccinated. So please don’t assume that it doesn’t really matter if one person skips the shot this year. It matters.
If you have questions or concerns about the flu shot or other vaccines, that’s it’s important to talk to your doctor or explore credible resources like the CDC or IVaccinate.org.
Getting the flu shot isn’t just about not getting sick this year. It didn’t fail if you do happen to get sick. If you’re alive, it worked. It helped. And it’ll help your friend’s baby who is due in January. It’ll help your friend’s dad who was just diagnosed with cancer. It’ll help your grandma who struggles to stay healthy and has been in and out of the hospital. It’ll help your nurse friend better protect the patients she cares for every day. It’ll help your friend who is struggling financially and can’t afford to call off work, even for a day.
I get the flu shot for my son and my daughter. I get it for my god daughter Alice. I get it for my dad. For my Grandma Bonnie. I get it for my friend’s long-awaited and prayed-for baby due this month.
Get your flu shot. In most cases, it’s free. And it’s not just about you — it’s about everyone you love, too.
— Brittany Stricker is a wedding and portrait photographer. She and her husband Jacob have two kids and live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.