Man, this used to be such a nice neighborhood drugstore.
You could walk the aisles without being accosted by the pushers. If you took a half an hour to compare the eleven thousand types of toothbrushes, you'd be left in peace.
No one bothered you when you did 200 jumping jacks and then tried to see if you could make the heart rate testing machine explode.
But lately, it's gotten so creepy. People constantly dart around, holding their upper arms.
You can't examine a box of foam earplugs anymore without someone sidling up to you, whispering in your ear:
"Pssst...want a flu shot?" "Everyone else is doing it..." "Come on, it's good for you..."
It's unnerving. The billboards and website banners that sprout up this time of year, loudly advertising "Flu shots here, no appointment necessary!" and "Protect yourself!" are already enough. Must I be bombarded by the person who's ringing up my tampons?
What is it with the crazy-eyed campaign that has practically every employee on the floor acting like Shakey Joe with the pockets full of sunshine? I have suspicions that this vaccine enthusiasm did not solely emerge from a deep concern for public health.
A little online trolling reveals an industry trend. Across the country, drugstore employees are increasingly either required or inspired to push flu shot sales to increase profits. Complaints that employees feel intimidated into shilling shots have popped up, and one national drugstore chain is reportedly giving away iPads to those who meet sales goals.
No wonder you can't buy a box of Band-Aids these days without being propositioned.
Whether or not you get a flu shot is your business. It's also big business: According to the Center for Disease Control website, as many as 173 million doses of flu vaccine have been manufactured by six different pharmaceutical companies for 2011. That's a whole lot of product to move.
Vaccines expire quickly, and it makes sense that Big Pharma, its shareholders and its distributors want to unload as much as possible after experiencing a huge Maalox moment in 2010, when 40 million expired doses of the H1N1 vaccine had to be destroyed.
Unfortunately, no matter how thick the sales pitch, the reality remains that getting stuck with a flu shot doesn't necessarily mean you're not going to get the flu. A study by the University of Minnesota released last month found flu vaccines have not been nearly as effective over the past four decades as they've been touted, and in some years have barely made a difference at all.
Made up of inactive strains of whichever influenza viruses are predicted to be most common in the upcoming season, a flu vaccine will only work if you catch one of those particular strains.
To some, however, 59 percent efficacy is better than nothing. At its best, the flu is a week of feeling like someone has stuffed you down a toilet; in its worst incarnation, you can die, especially if you're very young or very old.
For those who work in hospitals, schools and with the elderly, the flu vaccine is the best defense medical science has to offer.
But it does warrant more thought before bowing to the peer pressure of the guy with the goatee who's just finished putting price tags on a case of plastic enema bottles.
Personally, I'm one of those weird hippie moms who sneaks flax seed oil into smoothies and eats dandelion greens out of the neighbor's yard. My winter strategy has always been to make sure everyone's immune systems are working at full steam by getting enough nutrition and rest and washing our hands like obsessive-compulsive maniacs. For the most part, it works marvelously.
But just in case you thought I lived up here on this high horse, a telltale achy neck and throbbing sinuses threatened to lay me out last week.
Since I'm no longer welcome at the local drugstore because of the Goatee Pulling Incident, I headed to Brighter Day Natural Foods to see if owner and nutritionist Peter Brodhead could help before the snot situation got out of hand.
Peter handed me a small brown bottle of his own Acute Immune Formula, masterminded to amp up the immune system against flu, colds and other nasties lurking on doorknobs and shopping carts. Containing two types of Echinacea, coptis and bee-generated propolis, it's formulated to be anti-viral and anti-bacterial.
"My aim was to create a broad-based formula that covered as much as possible," says Peter, who's owned Savannah's natural foods nexus for over three decades with his wife Janie.
I took the acute dose of 30-40 drops every hour for a whole day and by golly, I sidestepped the ick like a smooth criminal.
It tasted kind of vile, but totally tolerable when mixed with juice. I did have to go all Mary Poppins with a spoonful of sugar to get a preventative dose in the kids.
A lifelong student of medicinal herbs (no, stoners, that's not a codeword), Peter is Savannah's most valuable resource when it comes to treating illness with sustainably-derived botanicals that have been used for thousands of years.
I suggest stopping in to talk to him about the latest clinical research, most of which comes from Europe. Here in America, we appear to moving backwards when it comes to staying healthy with natural medicine:
The FDA has issued guidelines that will require compliance with new ingredient notification protocols, effectively making it impossible for any new natural product to make it to market. You can tell the FDA what you think about this at anh-usa.org.
Herbs or shots, let's all just remember to cover our mouth when we sneeze and wash our hands, shall we?
Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to head out to the lawn to pick tonight's salad. cs
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"And you deserve better."
Thanks, Jim, for my new campaign slogan.