The Shot Heard Around the World

By Maj. Tracy BaldaufOctober 29, 2018

"The Shot Heard 'Round the World", those familiar with Ralph Waldo Emerson's 1837 poem Concord Hymn instantly associates the phrase with the American Revolution; however, I suggest they could also associate the phrase with Jonas Salk's 1938 development of the Flu vaccine, or "shot". Why is the flu shot so important that it could be mentioned in the same breath as the American Revolution? Well, twenty years prior to Salk's vaccine, the entire world was engulfed in the Flu Pandemic of 1918.

The Flu Pandemic of 1918 wiped out nearly 40 million people worldwide including almost 1 million Americans. This represented approximately 1 percent of the U.S. population at the time; in today's terms, that would equal more than 30 million deaths in the U.S. alone. In addition to those that died, millions more suffered from the illness as it is estimated that 28% of the U.S. population contracted the Flu. By contrast, there were 16 million deaths worldwide (116 thousand U.S.) from World War 1. So it is no wonder that twenty years later, Salk was hailed as a hero when he introduced the first Flu vaccine.

But, that was almost 100 years ago! That could never happen again, or could it? Unfortunately it is more likely now than it has been since before vaccinations began. This is mostly due to the mobility of our modern population, but also due to more people opting out of the flu and other vaccines. There are many reasons that individuals resist vaccination in general but most seem centered around myths, so much so that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has created a fact sheet; "Flu Vaccine Facts & Myths".

Myth #1: "The Flu is not a serious disease." For those of you who believe this, I refer you to paragraph two above; however, if that's not enough, the CDC states that each year an average of 200,000 people are hospitalized due to the Flu and an average of 36,000 people die. While most of those people are over 65 years of age, children under the age of two are at just as great a risk which leads to Myth #2.

Myth #2: "Only older people need a flu vaccine." While those over age 65 are at greatest risk, adults and children with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart or kidney disease need a flu shot. Doctors also recommend a flu shot for children age 6 months and older. Remember that the immune system of young children is not as developed as adults and this alone places them at greater risk.

Myth #3: "The flu shot doesn't work." Most of the time, the flu vaccine will prevent the flu. Scientific studies have shown that the flu vaccine has been as high as 90% effective in preventing the flu. That having been said, it is important to remember that the flu vaccine is a projection of what strain will be predominant in the coming season.

Myth #4: "The side effects are worse than the flu." The worst side effect one is likely to incur from a flu shot is a sore arm. As for the flu mist, likely side effects might include nasal congestion or runny nose or perhaps a slight sore throat lasting for a day or so. As for the risk of allergic reaction, the odds of experiencing a severe allergic reaction are less than 1 in 4 million. For perspective, if every single man, woman and child in the United States received the flu vaccine, only about 75 or so would experience a severe allergic reaction; conversely more than 30,000 lives could be saved.

Myth #5: "The flu shot causes the flu." Not only is that statement completely false it is totally impossible! When a virus invades the body it must be able to reproduce in order to infect a person. The injectable vaccine, the flu shot, is produced with a dead virus. A dead virus cannot reproduce and therefore cannot infect a person. The other main version of the vaccine is the mist, which is produced using a weakened version of the virus, while technically a "live" virus, the mechanism for infection has been eliminated so it cannot cause illness either. Remember, it takes a week or two to develop full immunity after an immunization and the flu vaccine is administered during a time of the years when colds are more prevalent, so next time you get a flu shot and get sick shortly afterwards, it may not be the flu that you have contracted or, you were exposed to the flu before your vaccination had time to become effective.

The bottom line is; the flu vaccine is a safe and effective means of protecting yourself against a potentially serious illness, and you can never know when another pandemic like what occurred in 1918 can strike again. So remember, the next time you here the phrase, "The Shot Heard 'Round the World.", I want you to think of the flu shot! Protect yourself, protect your loved ones, get your flu vaccine!