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My Flu Shot: A Snapshot Of US Healthcare

Photo of Flu Shot being administered

Election anxiety has America on the edge of its seat. I anticipated long lines and a lot of drama, so I voted early to avoid the rush. That left me with nothing election-related to do today, so I decided to head over to my local pharmacy and get a flu shot instead.

Last year the flu vaccine was only 50% effective because experts did not correctly predict which viral strains would victimize Americans. This year I have my fingers crossed that the Brisbane and Florida strains included in the vaccine will do the trick. After all, Influenza is the single leading cause of vaccine-preventable disease in the U.S., with estimates between 15 million and 60 million cases in the US a year among all age groups.  Influenza leads to 200,000 hospitalizations and about 36,000 deaths a year in the U.S., mostly in infants and the elderly. I’ll never forget the touching story of how one family lost their three and-a-half year-old daughter to the flu.

So I arrived at the pharmacy only to find a disorderly group of flu-shot seekers, pacing near the entrance to the retail clinic. About 20 minutes later a young woman with a clipboard and sign up sheets came out and started asking people what kind of insurance they had. When my turn came she informed me that my insurance plan was not participating, and suggested that I leave. I asked if I could pay out-of-pocket for the shot and she said that I could and gave me a consent form. More people arrived without any movement in the line, and I overheard one person commenting that the nearby polling booth wasn’t moving as slowly. Another customer decided to leave to go vote and then come back later for the shot.

Forty minutes later my name was called and I entered a small room littered with papers and syringe caps. I rolled up my right sleeve and asked the technician about his injection technique. I watched him carefully draw up half a cc of vaccine from a multiple-use bottle.

He then asked me how I was going to pay. I presented my credit card and he said that he only accepted cash or check. I said that I had no idea that credit cards weren’t accepted and he seemed surprised that I wasn’t aware of the retail clinic policy. A large envelope was leaning against his chair leg, full of $30 cash deposits for the shot. Read more »

Warning: Influenza Can Be Fatal To Children

Most people assume that the flu is an inconvenience – an infection that causes a week of fevers, body aches, and discomfort. But it can be far more serious than that. In some cases, the virus can be fatal. I interviewed Joe Lastinger about the tragic loss of his 3 and-a-half year-old daughter to influenza. You can listen to our interview here.

Dr. Val: I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter’s death from influenza. Can you tell me a little bit about the events that led up to it?

Joe: The events were pretty unremarkable, until she died suddenly. Emily was three and a half at the time and had just started pre-school. One day she came home from school and she was very tired. She wanted to take a nap. Normally she didn’t take naps so we knew something was different. We took her to the pediatrician the next day and she was diagnosed with the flu. We were counseled to give her fluids, Tylenol and Motrin around the clock to control her fever, and to expect it to resolve in about a week.

However, Emily began experiencing more nausea a few days in. We contacted the pediatrician and she asked us a series of questions about her symptoms – but since she was urinating regularly, wasn’t having bloody vomit, or any other serious symptoms we were reassured. The next day my wife was in the kitchen (near the bedroom where she had left Emily) and I heard her scream. She found Emily on the ground, not breathing. We called 911 and the paramedics were able to get her heart started. She was transferred to the local children’s hospital, and was intubated. Unfortunately there was never any sign of brain activity and they slowly maxed out all the drugs they were giving her to keep her alive.

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