I got a flu shot last week. I just walked into my doctor's office, gave the nurse 20 bucks, got my shot and walked out the door. The whole operation took about five minutes.
I know some of you are wondering: "How did Jowers get a flu shot in five minutes, while my grandma waited outside in the rain for half a day, then got sent home without a shot?"
Well, I just stumbled into the right place at the right time, not unlike Garth Brooks. When I called my doc's office and asked about a flu shot, the nurse told me to come on down. Although I'm nowhere near 65 and my health is generally good, my 1999 quintuple bypass surgery earns me a place in the flu-shot line. I was worried about looking like some kind of underage, overly healthy line-jumping punk, so I went to the shot clinic wearing a pullover shirt. When it came time to expose my bicep for the shot, I pulled the shirt over my head and flashed my hideous bypass scar. Believe me when I tell you: a man with a scar as long as a dachshund can always get a little sympathy from his co-patients down at the doctor's office. Best I could tell, everybody in the shot clinic was happy to see me get my shot, and happier yet to see me put my shirt back on.
Even though I'm a certified and deserving flu-shot recipient, I couldn't help but wonder if I'd just taken some sweet little old lady's flu shot. I shed that thought by calling up the memory of my evil and snake-faced stepmother, Montine, who fed my daddy, Jabo, some overcooked chili his last day on earth, hoping it would kill him. Sure enough, he dropped dead that very night. Then, before Jabo was cold, Montine tried to steal everything in the Jowers house, right down to the salt shakers and the salt that was in them. I convinced myself, rightly or wrongly, that Montine is still alive, and I took her flu shot.
I know a lot of people are wondering how we got into this mess, where every American except Montine ought to be able to get a flu shot, but there aren't enough doses to go around. Except for flu shots, a person can buy just about anything in this country. Ten million bucks will get you a 12-person zeppelin from Neiman Marcus. For a little more than $200, you can have your very own realistic and semi-functioning replica of porn star Jenna Jameson's girlparts, from Doc Johnson.
So why is it that granny can't get a simple dose of flu vaccine? I'll tell you why: Neiman Marcus and Doc Johnson are making good money. Flu-vaccine suppliers are not. Companies that can make drugs are concentrating on money-makers that cure erectile dysfunction, high cholesterol, diabetes and the like. Vaccine suppliers are left picking up the crumbs. Flu vaccine retails for 10 to 20 bucks a dose, and patients only need one shot a year. Compare that to the cholesterol-fighting drug Lipitor, which retails for about a thousand bucks a year, at the lowest dose.
Ten years ago, there were four companies making flu vaccine. This year, there were only two: Aventis Pasteur and Chiron. Chiron slipped up and contaminated its whole run of vaccine. They had to discard all 50 million doses. Aventis made, and shipped, about 58 million doses, and they're promising 2 million more. That's not going to be enough to immunize every American who wants a flu shot.
Despite what you might hear from politicians, the government isn't going to come up with more flu vaccine. The government can't force anybody to make flu vaccine, and even if they could, it wouldn't be ready in time. It takes about six months to make a batch of flu vaccine. This flu season will be over in less than six months. If you don't get immunized this year, you're just going to have to wait until next year.
Here's the good news: if you can't get a flu shot, there are other ways to fight the flu. Avoid sick people, keep your hands off things that other people touch, and wash your hands a lot. When you're not near soap and water, you might want to use a liquid "hand sanitizer," such as Purell. Nobody knows if the stuff kills cold and flu viruses, but it's worth a try.
Then there's FluMist flu vaccine, a nasal spray that contains live but weakened flu virus. It's a prescription drug, meant for people ages 5 to 49. FluMist is probably going to be in short supply this year. If you can't get a flu shot, it makes sense to ask your doctor about FluMist.
If you get the flu and get to your doctor within a day or two of having symptoms, you might be a candidate for Tamiflu, a pill that attacks the flu virus and keeps it from spreading through your body. It's a prescription drug, meant for patients 1 year old or older. Flu sufferers who take Tamiflu felt better 1.3 days sooner than those who didn't take Tamiflu, according to Roche, the drug's manufacturer. That's not exactly miraculous, but 32 hours without the flu is way better than 32 extra hours of flu.