Since COPD makes me vulnerable to lung infections, I get vaccinated

Why I'm participating in an American Lung Association seminar on vaccines

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by Caroline Gainer |

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Each year here in West Virginia, the Greenbrier Clinic, where I have my yearly physical, sends me a complete list of my vaccinations and when the boosters are due. I make every effort to stay current with them because having chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) makes me vulnerable to respiratory infections.

There’s a movement to oppose vaccines, and COVID-19 has added to people’s concerns. That’s why I said yes when the American Lung Association asked me to participate in an online seminar about seasonal vaccinations. A vaccine for the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has been added as a recommended vaccination by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for people over 60. Two vaccines have been approved for that purpose: Arexvy and Abrysvo.

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A vaccine leads to a case of GBS

I developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) following the swine flu vaccine in 1976, so I have a good reason to be wary of them. According to the CDC, people who got the swine flu vaccine were more likely to develop GBS than those who didn’t. With GBS, tingling in the hands and feet can lead to paralysis as a result of an immune attack on nerves.

I was living in Weirton, West Virginia, at the time, and I was conflicted about getting vaccinated because of issues with the program, which were in the news. Still, on the last day it was offered at my community center, I became one of the last three people, along with my friend and my husband, to receive it. I’d become convinced that my chances of remaining well were better with the shot than without it.

But in the days after getting the vaccine, I began to hallucinate; I remember watching three boys throw rocks at my neighbor’s house, but there’s no window where I was standing so I couldn’t have seen this happen. It was a hallucination, even though the memory is so clear to me. At some point during that week, my husband took me to the emergency room because I’d become unable to walk. I was sent home, and he was told they could do nothing for me.

I was fortunate that I recovered from GBS, since a treatment for it wasn’t developed until a few years later.

A yearly flu shot

I started to get a yearly flu shot in the late 1980s, after the school system where I worked began offering free shots to its employees. I was glad to participate because as a teacher, I knew I was exposed to whatever would’ve been going around at the time. I understood the vaccine gave me a better chance of fighting off the flu.

When the COVID-19 outbreak happened in 2020, I couldn’t wait to get the vaccination once one was made available. I’ve gotten each booster since and plan to keep up to date with them.

When the pandemic started, I was careful and didn’t mingle in crowds; I wore a mask and kept my hands clean. I’m fortunate that I haven’t caught the virus.

It’s important to me that my vaccination records remain up to date, especially after being diagnosed with COPD in 2013. In fact, I keep a list of my vaccinations and the dates I have received them — and that makes me happy.

Note: COPD News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of COPD News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.