Lileks: Shot in the dark no match for the flu

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 10, 2012 - 4:18 PM

The Flu-Industrial Complex had its credibility rattled this week with a report from U of M researchers: Flu shots provide only "modest" protection for the young and middle-aged and hardly any for seniors. They work pretty well on dead people, though. This is where the reader says, "Well, let's hear from good ol' Mike Osterholm on that." As you wish. From the New York Times:

"We have overpromoted and overhyped this vaccine," said Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. "It does not protect as promoted. It's all a sales job."

I rather suspected that when the doctor said, "This injection is brought to you by the refreshing mint taste of Lavoris," but you hate to have your doubts confirmed.

Osterholm still advises that you get the shot, but don't expect it to work miracles -- and by "miracles," I mean "prevent the flu." Otherwise, sure, they're great.

For years I avoided flu shots, mostly because the "flu" part was a gamble but the "shot" part was certain. If having a pointed stick shoved into your flesh is optional, a lot of people go with "no thanks."

Then I got the flu -- or rather, it got me. It was 2003, the year of the super-ultra flu that produced such racking coughs and molar-clacking chills you sounded like wind-up teeth gagging on oysters. I thought, "You know, perhaps momentary discomfort and needle-phobia are better than a week of staring at the fan in the bedroom, praying for death."

To my surprise, needles had gotten much better. Hardly felt a thing.

The next year the vaccine seemed ... well, spicier than before, somehow. Next year: Painless. Next year: exCUSE me -- you filled that syringe with hot lead, right?

I became a connoisseur of flu shots: Hmm. Prickly top note, smooth notes of chicken antibodies, pleasant finish.

Haven't had the flu in years.

Turns out it had nothing to do with the shots. Might as well have sacrificed chicken guts to a bobblehead of Kirby Puckett.

Oh well, I've already gotten one. This year's jab didn't feel like anything at all. I chalked it up to advances in needle technology. But perhaps they'd gotten wind of the study and decided to fake it. In other words, I paid $17 for a Band-Aid.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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