I did something I wouldn't normally do

18 November 2015 09:07 AM CST


Yesterday I did something I wouldn't normally do. I got a flu shot. And the best explanation I have for doing so, is that I want to make sure Laura Beth and lil Simon are as protected as possible from anything I might catch. So I went for it!

It's probably been about 8 years since my last flu shot. I used to get them seasonally. But after three consecutive years of getting really, really sick almost immediately after getting the shot, I decided to stop getting them. And for the past 8 years (knock on wood) I haven't gotten nearly as sick as I used to. Of course, that can be attributed to lots of things. Massive lifestyle changes probably being the most significant. I think I do a much better job of taking care of my body than I did a decade ago.

Deciding to get a flu shot wasn't an easy thing to do. In fact, the saga of the annual flu shot has been going on for about a year now. Last year, after getting my job at Vanderbilt, they implemented a massive flu vaccination program for all Vanderbilt employees. And last year the program was highly encouraged, but it wasn't mandatory. They threatened, chided, and pushed as hard as possible to get as many of their employees as possible immunized last year. And this year they took the policy one step further by making it mandatory. And the penalty for non-compliance is the loss of your job. Yup, they'll fire you if you don't get a flu shot.

The institution claims you can file an exemption request. But, from my experience last year filing an exemption, and from what I've heard from countless colleagues of mine, it's all but impossible to have your exemption accepted. As far as I can tell, the only way to receive exemption from the vaccination is if you have a medically documented egg allergy. Without a doctor's note indicating precise medical reasons why you shouldn't be vaccinated, you are left with no other choice but to get the vaccination. Or find a new job.

It's incredibly disheartening to me to be pressured in this way by my employer. I understand that I'm an "at will" employee and that the institution can pretty much do whatever they want with me. There's just something unpleasant about being forced to have a needle shoved into my body and a cocktail of four dead flu strains pumped into my bloodstream. Especially when the primary method of encouragement for compliance is threat-based (loss of job) as opposed to education based (mass vaccination programs are the most effective means of protection against contagious pathogens). In fact, I can't recall a single piece of information illustrating the benefits associated with vaccination. I've seen materials focused on debunking flu vaccination myths. I've seen posters encouraging me to not be a "flu flake." But not once have I seen anything discussing herd immunity. Herd immunity (or mass vaccination) is the best defense we've come up with for dealing with dangerous pathogens. It's how we've battled measles and smallpox and now it's the best method we have against the flu. Herd immunity was first implemented in the 1930s (for dealing with measles) and I'm amazed that in a world of exponential change we haven't found a better method for managing infectious pathogens. But, alas, that's what we've got.

This year while deliberating how best to proceed with getting a flu shot I decided it felt best to focus on keeping my family safe. Especially now that we're expecting a lil boy! As a new father I'm already experiencing the emotions associated with wanting the best for your children. And as Laura Beth aces this pregnancy, and lil Simon grows and grows, the best feeling thought for me was doing my part to ensure their health and wellness. And I thought getting the flu shot wasn't such a bad idea if it meant I might not expose them to sickness. So that's what I'm focusing on!