The Ritual of the Flu Shot

This weekend, our family of six will load up, head to the medical center, and wait in line for our flu shots. It will be at least our sixth annual such journey, and a funny thing has happened along the way: the kids have embraced the whole thing.

Not just because they don’t want to get the flu. I’m obviously a believer in the shot, even understanding its limitations. The vaccine’s effectiveness depends on the match between the influenza viruses chosen for the vaccine and the ones that end up spreading in any given year. The CDC’s preliminary data from last year show about 60% effectiveness. The numbers from 3 years ago suggest the vaccine protected 7 out of ten people that year. And of course it doesn’t protect against everything; every year, some child of mine, afflicted with strep throat or just a really bad cold, demands to know “why am I sick if I got that shot?” They’re not convinced it works. I never really know if it works. We might get a different flu, or never have been exposed to the flu. It’s insurance, with a side of gambling.

My kids go to get the flu vaccine fairly willingly because as far as they’re concerned, they’ve always gone to get the flu vaccine. It’s a ritual that’s somehow entered into our family lore. Remember the time Lily screamed so hard Mommy had to hold her down? The year Daddy made the really funny face? They time they gave us books in line while we waited? They debate the merits of the shot and the nasal spray vaccine (which research shows is just as effective, something you’ll never believe as you watch it drip out of your child’s nose). Three prefer the shot (it’s over in a second!), one the spray (but it gonna hurt me!).

And off we go. I’m frequently amazed at the things they turn into family traditions: we always stop in the same spot on the way to summer vacation every year, all line up under the smoke detector with magazines every time Mommy cooks bacon. I did not realize that we “always trick-or-treat at Daddy’s office” until it was pointed out to me when—all the kids being past the cute-toddler-happy-to-get-a-Hershey’s-Kiss stage—I tried to skip it last year. I never would have guessed that flu shots met that criteria. I think, in a bizarre way, that they enjoy it. Or at least they enjoy anticipating it.

But will I still have to hold Lily down for the actual shot part? I wouldn’t take a bet either way.

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