Have you ever wondered what’s in the back room at your drug store? What’s behind that weathered steel door with flaking red paint? What lies beyond the clinically clean but wildly scuffed tiled floor beyond the reach of the relentless glow of industrial incandescence? Here’s your answer: A chair, a desk, a few vials, and an impatient nurse. This is where to get the flu shot. This is where you’re expected to sit down, in some chair that seems dragged out of a local high school, hold out your arm, and let this overworked drug store employee stick you with a vial of the 2019-2020 flu vaccine. This is what’s expected because your doctor is booked solid for a month, it’s close to home, and you’re a good person who cares about your health, your kid’s health, and your neighbor’s health. You know you shouldn’t hesitate to get the flu vaccine. But you do.
You know this place has the goods. All flu shots in every reach of the country first come through the CDC’s Influenza Division. Those vials are filled with the same A(H1N1)pdm09, A(H3N2), and two other strains of the flu that are your best chances of beating this flu season. You might have to do a little traveling if you want the sweet needle-free nasal spray or have an egg allergy, but if a place has the vaccine, they have the vaccine. Fancy doctors don’t get better flu vaccines. They might have nicer chairs to sit on, a proper waiting room with music that puts you at ease, and lighting that doesn’t make you feel like you’re being interrogated. But still the vials — the things that are going into your arm on this day — are all the same.
Then you get to thinking about the “quality” of the shot. Your doctor went to Northwestern. Good school. They put in 8 years there and even wrote a book for the general public on… nutrition or something. You didn’t read it, but know that it got reviewed, made them all the more a reputable doctor — a doctor with a book. The “nurse” in the drugstore? You don’t know their background at all. Their degrees aren’t on the wall. You also heard about that one time your friend got stuck an arm in exactly the wrong place and the person had a sore arm for a week. You did some Googling. You found some studies. You read about SIRVA.
SIRVA: Shoulder injuries related to vaccine administration.
It sounds bad. Real bad. The rates of this real-bad sounding thing that you don’t entirely understand are “under-reported” and “preventable.” Preventable, like how you could walk out of the drug store (you’re in the drug store now, needed some elderberry syrup, just in case), back to your home to give your doctor a call, right? You do it just in case.
Your doctor’s office won’t even patch you through. The voice behind the desk lets you know that it’s still a month of a wait to get a flu shot and that you should probably just go to a pharmacy. You have kids, kids who bring home germs. Flu germs. You’re being paranoid, they say. The shot is easy to administer and if the person administering it looks like they’re about to stab you near your neck, you can ask them to lower it a little. The chances of shoulder injury? It’s like a 1 in 10,000 chance, they say.
You do a little Googling. They’re not a doctor, after all, you tell yourself. You find out they’re wrong. It’s more like 1 in 1 million.
You realize you’re hesitation is getting a little embarrassing. When it comes down to it, you know, deep down — like radial nerve deep, which you’ve also heard can be hit during a routine vaccination and really hurts — many millions of people get shots in places that are not nice doctor’s offices. Whether it’s in New York Presbyterian-nice hospital, a Rite Aid, an emergency medical clinic, or a dark and dreary alleyway where there’s a CDC-sanctioned nurse, you should take that shot.
If there’s anything you know about health it’s that an ounce (or like a few milligrams) of prevention can stop you from getting the flu. Your hesitation and endless ability to self-justify is bad for your health. This is why you don’t exercise in the morning. This is why you ended up eating that cheeseburger for lunch, on a Monday, with fries.
The flu, unlike a little indigestion, is truly an awful thing. Upwards of 49 million Americans each year get it — and suffer with headaches, chills, vomiting, and generally being a miserable waste of infectious space for one to two weeks. Tens of thousands of people each year aren’t so lucky and die from it.
These are the sorts of stats that might inspire one to walk proudly into that drugstore, march into its deep, eery recesses, roll up a sleeve, and get that flu shot. It’s okay if you close your eyes while getting it. Chances are they’ll get you in the deltoid, just where they should. Besides, that light is pretty damn bright.