With the flu raging all around her, Boston University sophomore Shara Ogg took immediate action when she got an e-mail from her school urging students to get a flu shot.
“I deleted it,” she said as she strolled in the Back Bay on Thursday. “It’s a hassle.”
Never mind that Mayor Thomas M. Menino has declared a public health emergency, sending out some 45,000 robo calls practically begging Boston residents to roll up their sleeves. Or that the threat of infection is so severe that hospitals are restricting visitors. Or that the director of Boston’s Infectious Disease Bureau considers a flu shot “the best protection we have.”
Many Bostonians think they know better.
“Number one, I’m lazy,” said Karl Saint-Pierre, 38, a customer service representative from Mattapan. “Number two, my 6-year-old says, ‘Daddy, you’re going to get the flu if you get the flu shot.’ ”
The Centers for Disease Control recommend that everyone 6 months and older get a flu shot, but it turns out that most of us don’t bother — working in offices, shopping in malls, coughing, rubbing our eyes, and wiping our noses, helping the virus make its rounds.
By the end of November, only 37 percent of Americans had gotten vaccinated according to the CDC, although a spokesman said he expects the rate to rise when the December statistics come in.
Forget the kindness of strangers: These people have germs. The city has 750 confirmed cases of the flu, as of the week ending Jan. 5 — that’s more than 10 times the tally of last year’s entire season.
So why not get a shot that’s being given away free, or is covered by insurance, or nets you a discount coupon at CVS?
There are many reasons. There’s the common misconception that a flu shot gives you the flu, a myth that may come from the fact that the shot takes about two weeks to work, so even if you do get one, influenza enjoys a grace period, said Nick Martin, a spokesman for the Public Health Commission. Furthermore, the vaccine was found to be effective only 55 percent of the time against the dominant flu strain in the state, H3N2, according to testing conducted by the CDC and released Friday.
Next justification? Even though an average case of flu can sideline a person for three to five days, many say they are just too busy to take 10 minutes out of their daily routine to get vaccinated. That includes Rachael Tracy — a pharmacy technician at CVS’s Boylston Street location.
Yes, Tracy works at a flu clinic. “But I’m always working,” she said, as she pondered snack options during a break at the store, which happened to be administering shots at that very moment. Couldn’t a co-worker just give her a quick prick when her shift ends? “I just run out of here,” she said.
Kathy Solomon, 61, a retired medical researcher, isn’t getting a shot either, but not because she’s too busy, too lazy, or unsure if it would protect her. In fact, she’s pro shot — for others, that is.
“I don’t like getting injections,” she said. “If everyone else gets it, I won’t need to.”
Others believe they’re safe without the shot — safer, in fact.
“Every person I know who gets the shot, gets the flu,” said Nate Wall, 31, a service technician from Wakefield. He has no plans to get inoculated, but understands those who do. “Some people get it for peace of mind.”
Indeed, those who don’t get a flu shot and then contract the flu feel they have only themselves to blame, layering guilt on top of the fever, chills, and coughing, and sometimes leaving care-givers less than sympathetic.
“All I had to do was walk down to CVS during my lunch break and get the shot,” said a self-flagellating Nicole Russo, a publicist with 451 Marketing in Boston. Russo was speaking by phone from her bed, on her fourth of day of feeling lousy. She was suffering from a double whammy of sorts. Earlier in the week she had too much work to stay home, but her obvious illness made her a pariah to colleagues.
“My husband is telling me to get the shot now,” she said, “but what will that do? I can’t reverse time. Do I get it or not?”
(Yes, says Martin, the Public Health Commission spokesman, explaining that there are multiple strains of the flu circulating, so should a person be unlucky enough to catch a second strain of the flu, a shot might indeed help.)
With weeks and weeks to go until flu season ends, there’s no shortage of experts urging people to get inoculated. But some would rather crowd source the decision on social media sites, putting their health in the hands of random “friends” — a former realtor, perhaps, or a third-grade classmate.
In Cambridge, Erica Chilson, 41, an actress and a cake decorator, has not gotten a flu shot yet, and earlier this past week she polled her 350 Facebook friends, eager to hear their arguments pro and con.
“They were split down the middle,” she said, still shot-free Friday afternoon. “I don’t like the idea of putting something into my body. I’m a healthy woman. I like to take the natural approach.”
But others fall back on simple fatalism to explain themselves.
“If you’re going to get the flu,” said Saint-Pierre, of Mattapan, “you're going to get the flu.”Beth Teitell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.