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Why I'm not afraid of the flu shot (and other vaccines)

Almost eight years ago, I had complications after the C-section delivery of my twin daughters. I was transferred to the hospital's cardiac floor and doctors were telling me that I needed a blood transfusion.

I was afraid of not being around for my children, but I was even more afraid of getting a blood transfusion. It was a tense couple of days as I steadfastly refused. If I hadn't been nursing my daughters, maybe I would have done it. Despite doctors' assurances that the blood was safe, I worried about the chance that I would contract something then pass it along to the girls through my breast milk.

You can't really compare a blood transfusion to a flu shot or any other type of shot, but I do get it that people are afraid of injecting something harmful into their bodies. I really do get it.

There is always a chance that something bad can happen. And, that's what it really comes down to. It's true of just about any medical procedure or drug, and it's true of airline and car travel, among many other things. Something bad can happen anytime.

And while I understand the fear behind vaccines, I don't understand the loud anti-vaccine rhetoric. Where's it coming from? Is it parents who are defensive about not vaccinating their children? Or is it from alternative medicine providers who sense profits by providing vaccine alternatives or "antidotes?" I think it's a little of both.

If you continually focus on the bad things that can happen, you may miss the fact that for every bad thing, there might be hundreds of good things. When you focus on the few people who had bad reactions to the flu shot, for example, you may miss the millions of people who didn't get the flu, or developed a lesser case of it -- because they were immunized. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) hundreds of millions of people get the flu shot every year. I'm betting we won't hear from the people helped by the flu shot, though I wish they'd speak up.

I certainly don't want to downplay those who have suffered bad reactions to shots. I feel terrible for them and do not doubt their sincerity. It's just that I don't think the rest of us should be scared. Most drugs cause bad reactions in some people. The drugs are still prescribed because the benefits to many are so great.

Recently, Katie Couric did a show focusing on a few cases of bad reactions to the HPV vaccine. That's the shot for young girls (and boys) to prevent certain types of sexually transmitted diseases that have been linked to cervical cancer.

Couric was criticized for focusing on those rare instances of problems without mentioning that the vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective. Even Couric admitted that the criticism was valid, noting that her daughters have each had the shot.

According to the CDC, 57 million doses of the HPV vaccine were administered between June 2006 and March 2013. Of those, at least 22,000 reported reactions but most of those were not serious. I'm no math wizard, but those seem like pretty good odds.

Just the other day, I was prescribed an antibiotic for a sinus infection that had spread to my eyes. I only took a few doses of it but felt to bad that I could barely stand up. It was horrible and scary. While I will make certain I never take that antibiotic again (though my memory is bad so I can't guarantee it) I'm not going to go around saying antibiotics are bad. I won't even mention that specific one, because there may be hundreds of thousands of people who have been helped by it.

I fully support a parent's right to choose what is best for his or her child. But I don't understand the fear factor. Why do some people feel the need to scare the rest of us? I'm constantly hearing about all sorts of bad ingredients contained in the flu shot, including tissue from aborted fetuses. Huh? Then there's the theory that drug companies are trying to poison us so they can make money curing us. If that were true, the government would have to be in on it, too. If we're all poisoned, who will pay taxes and give money to politicians?

I'm sorry, I just don't buy it. If we all stop getting shots, I worry what that will mean. Will diseases that have been controlled for so long start creeping back? Why toss out years and years of science?

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