Do you know what I hate? Needles! When it comes to fight or flight, my body goes full-on flight. I’m also a vaccine advocate. I know that seems like a weird combination, but here I am, a needle-phobic vaccine advocate.
I am a mother of two living in Noblesville, Indiana, and I became involved with vaccine advocacy because my youngest son, Simon, was born with a primary immunodeficiency condition. Not only is he missing part of his immune system, but he also has asthma. In fact, three out of the four people in our household have asthma. Simon and I have a more severe case, but we’re well controlled with asthma medications. Still, respiratory viruses like the flu can be a significant struggle for asthmatics, and it can take weeks to recover fully.
Flu season is a rough time of year for asthmatics, between the allergens like mold and ragweed and cold temps, those cozy campfires that can trigger coughing fits, and an uptick in viruses that can cause upper respiratory infections. We can mitigate those attacks by avoiding our triggers, taking allergy meds, and getting a vaccine to prevent the mother of all viruses: influenza. Our whole family teams up for “Flu Shot and Candy Day” every October. We call it that because I am not above bribery, and if a fist full of candy makes a shot better for the boys, I am all for it.
Look, no one likes shots, but the flu is so much worse than the two-second OUCH from the needle. Simon may be lacking in the immune system department, but the flu shot is doctor-approved and safe for him to get every year. Because his body can’t mount an immune response to all vaccines, we actually don’t know how well it works for him. That’s why we ALL get a shot, so we’re less likely to bring it home to him, and so we aren’t as likely to spread it around. Sure, it’s not 100%, but I will take even 30% over zero.
I can’t count the nights I have sat next to Simon in bed, holding a nebulizer mask over his face while he wheezes in his sleep. I’ve watched the numbers on his pulse ox monitor and played the “When is it time for the ER?” game in my head more times than I can count. A simple cold has him down for far longer than other kids, so the flu would be even worse. Along with learning to brush his teeth and zip up a jacket, he’s also had many lessons in proper handwashing, moving away from coughing people, and keeping his fingers out of his nose and mouth. These lessons help keep him safe and are part of the life of an immunocompromised child. He also knows the importance of the flu shot. He doesn’t like it any more than I do, but he is one tough cookie. He’s had over 100 needle sticks in his short little life. If Simon can be so tough, so can I.
This year, don’t skip your flu shot. Roll up your sleeve, protect not just yourself but kids like Simon, and get yourself a candy bar afterward. I’m told it helps.
Colleen Thomas is a mother of two and a Hoosiers Vaccinate. Click here to learn more about Colleen and advocacy.