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What to Do If You Can't Have a Flu Shot

As the leaves change color and begin to fall, most of us start to hear "Get a flu shot" every day. But what happens when flu season is approaching and you're an individual who can't have a flu shot?


Every year, I become a ping-pong ball. The various flu vaccines available annually -- administered by injection or nasal spray -- are helpful to most people. However, I take drugs to treat Crohn's disease that deliberately suppress my overactive immune system. Physicians apparently debate heatedly over whether patients like me should get a flu shot.

Physician A, an internist, declines to give me the immunization. He says it would be pointless, since this suppression would most likely render the vaccine ineffective. He adds that nobody really knows what my deliberately broken immune system would do with the vaccine, a thought I find scary.

Physician B asks me every November whether I've had a flu shot. He gets upset every time I explain why not. Will they ever talk to each other? In the meantime, I'm on my own as far as avoiding the flu.

Need for Vaccine

The viruses responsible for influenza are generally airborne. The most-common types are A and B. Many people don't realize that a flu vaccine isn't 100 percent effective, or that the immunization requires about two weeks before it can protect you.

The nearly universal standard for who should get vaccinated is the CDC recommendation, which says that just about everybody at least 6 months old should get a yearly flu vaccine. The notable exceptions are youngsters who aren't old enough and those who've ever experienced a severe reaction linked to an egg allergy.

Some individuals should see a doctor first for advice. They include people with an illness that's moderate to severe, either with or without a fever, and those with a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Steps to Stay Ahead of the Flu

Those of us who pass on flu immunizations can still take some specific steps to avoid getting sick from the virus:

  • Stay away from people who look sick. This isn't always easy. Three years ago, I chose to quit my job to avoid contact with another employee who frequently brought family germs to work.
  • Limit time in public places. Between Nov. 1 and April 30, I avoid the grocery store except when it's deserted. I also steer clear of the library, the pharmacy, restaurants, and retail stores. I request the first doctor's appointment of the day to avoid a crowded waiting room, and I ask that the hairdresser call me if she notices anyone sick on the day of my appointment. I pick the least-attended church service.
  • Avoid touching the nose, mouth, and eyes. This is a common way in which germs spread.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces touched by other people who enter your living space. Perform general cleaning more often during flu season. Empty trash often.
  • Don't share a glass or a smoke.
  • Develop a plan with your healthcare provider. It should include instructions on where and how you can get a quick appointment if you develop any "iffy" flu symptoms. Every sneeze doesn't mean you have the flu, but sometimes a medical professional must make the determination.

Needing to pass on a flu vaccine doesn't have to be the end of the world. With some careful planning, those of us who don't get the vaccine can greatly lessen our odds of catching the bug.

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