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The Flu Shot: To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate?

The benefits of getting the flu shot and other common vaccines, outweigh any of the potential risks involved.

Have you scheduled your child’s flu shot?  Or, gasp, even your own?

There are many reasons why getting injected with a dead virus may not top your to-do list, but it better not be something as lame as…I forgot!

Pharmacies around town seem to be singing the same song, Signs, by the Five Man Electrical Band.

You know the one - “signs, signs everywhere a sign” - if you don’t , and certainly do.  And they are covered in them.   

Okay, so perhaps you have somehow avoided the signs.  What about the pediatrician reminder card that came by mail?  Surely, your PCP will be sending one along soon.

I must admit I loathe this time of year.  Or at least I have since 2004.  That’s the fall I was pregnant with my first child.  It was also the height of the “thimerosal in vaccines cause autism” debate. 

So not unlike any other time during my pregnancy, I was given plenty of unsolicited advice, to put it mildly.  Some were outright directives, which in this case I followed, and opted out of the flu vaccine.  Interestingly only half of the pregnant women in the U.S. get the flu shot.

Vaccines have been a source of debate for decades and probably won’t cease in the near future.  Immunizations typically follow a schedule based on date of birth. 

The flu shot is unique because it is administered within a specific timeframe and it’s optional.  Debates and headlining medical studies are almost guaranteed around now.

Moms I spoke with have basically just added it to the “blue book” so to speak.  It’s preventative like 6-month dentist appointments in their opinion.

Needless to say, learning of the strong advocacy against vaccinations caught me by surprise. 

To be clear, I am not speaking of the cultural, religious beliefs or health factors that are prohibitive to any immunizations. It was the instances of parental preference prohibition that astonished me.

With the prevalence of bubble wrap child rearing, parents want to avoid any potential discomfort for their child.  For that reason, I should not have been surprised in the least.  Regardless of parenting style I cannot think of any parent who likes watching their child in pain. 

Even as a parent who is on an anti-bubble wrap crusade, I detest the thought of my daughter’s prolonged crying.  Mind you, that the crying takes place before she actually gets the injection!  The needle’s removal is typically followed by a quip like, “That wasn’t bad!”

No matter what emotions are felt as a parent, we need to be mindful that, “short-term discomfort is better than long-term pain.”

Though a quote from a Love & Logic parenting program, the words are poignant to this discussion as well. They literally apply to the logistics of childhood vaccinations.   

  • Does it feel horrible to listen to our newborns (and perhaps, 13-year-olds) cry? Yes.
  • Does it sometimes make us cry too?  Yes, especially at those first few.
  • Are we overcome with guilt as we hold our child, be it on the table or in our arms, so they can get stuck with a needle? Of course, hence our McDonald’s run right after!

When faced with a choice of causing your child discomfort, albeit short and for their long-term health benefit, parental indecision and guilt are inevitable and sometimes overwhelming. 

Luckily, The Institute of Medicine recently released a 645-page researched report that should offer some reassurance for parents, who are finding themselves either on the fence or ridden by guilt. 

It provides encouragement to continue to get both yourself and your family immunized.  (Though I did not read it in its entirety, the link is provided in the resource section below.)

WebMD’s Expert Blogger, Roy Benaroch, MD., speaks to the benefits of vaccines in his August 30, 2011 post, Vaccines Are The Safer Choice. 

“Most parents make sure their children are fully vaccinated; others choose not to allow one or more vaccines. Parents from both groups both need to know that neither one of their decisions is 100% safe.

“You can get the vaccines, and accept a real but very small risk of serious adverse reactions; or you can skip the vaccines, and accept the real risk of endangering your child’s life (and the lives of other exposed people in the community) with a vaccine-preventable disease.

“Parents would like to choose the path with zero percent risk– but that is not possible.”

Benaroch cautions parents about the dangers in not receiving timely immunizations.  

“The risks of not vaccinating have been increasing. As more families have chosen to “opt out,” communities in the US and abroad are experiencing resurgences of serious illnesses like measles and pertussis. 

“When balancing the risks of disease versus vaccines, keep in mind that the disease risks are growing, even while more and more studies are showing that the vaccines are safer than ever.”

 Bottom Line…

  • If you want a fighting chance against the flu, get a flu shot.
  • The flu shot side effects are minor and shouldn't be a concern. 
  • It takes 2 weeks for the flu vaccine to take effect, so get it by October.
  • The flu shot will NOT give you the flu: The flu virus in that needle going into your arm is dead, making it impossible for you to catch the flu by getting a flu shot.

So I ask again, what’s your excuse? 

To ensure our community stays healthy, it needs to be immunized.

***

Flu FAQs:

http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2011-2012.htm

The Institute of Medicine’s findings specific to the Flu vaccine:

http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=13164&page=257

To view the Institute of Medicine’s report in its entirety click:

http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=13164

This is an opinion column and while all sources for data have been cited, this article is in no way a substitution for medical advice.  Contact your primary care provider whenever making any health care decision.

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