Thursday, October 11, 2007

Flu shots -- what to do??

So it’s fall and flu shot time is upon us – that is, if we opt to recognize flu shot time at all. Last year we subjected Will to the flu shot clinic at our pediatrician’s office after wondering whether or not to do it. I’m a sucker for CDC recommendations and they recommend it for children ages 6 months to 5 years old because they are “at high risk for complications from the flu” (along with everyone over 6 months who shares a house with them). Today a friend called to see if I’d be giving Will a shot this year because she’s trying to decide whether to do the same with her daughter.

Another friend, who’s been madly researching vaccines and has put her son on a schedule where he gets the ones she’s decided are crucial one at a time so she can monitor his reactions, recommended this Stephanie Cave book to me: “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Children’s Vaccinations.” I checked it out from the library yesterday, and I get a headache just looking at it and thinking about trying to weigh the risks and benefits of each vaccine for Will and Owen. Each time, whether I opt for the shot or not, it feels like I’ll be gambling with their health. Which is why up to now, I’ve been throwing my hands in the air, and following the advice of our doctor’s office (I checked in with them today and was told the vaccine is definitely optional but they recommend it).

Of course, the more I read the more confused I become about what to do. Cave says in her book (which I should point out has a 2001 publication date so some information may be dated): “The CDC recommendation that healthy children should get a flu vaccine raises questions for many people. Mass immunizations of healthy children removes natural antibodies to the flu, which are provided when the flu is acquired naturally. Medical science is not yet certain whether it is better for healthy children, who rarely experience complications from flu, to get the flu and develop natural, permanent immunity to that specific flu strain, or for them to get vaccinated every year and suppress flu…”

She also says this about the mercury-containing preservative thimerosol that is used in some flu shots: “Until the thimerosal is removed from the flu vaccine, I have concerns about its safety. I believe the ethylmercury in the vaccine can cause neurological or immune system problems for anyone who gets the shot, especially the elderly and I think it is unsafe to give to pregnant women during any stage of pregnancy.”

So I found a chart at the Institute for Vaccine Safety Web site, which shows which types of flu vaccine still contain thimerosal. I called our pediatrician’s office and discovered we’d be getting the version of sanofi pasteur that is not preservative free (so it does contain thimerosal).

It does bother me that, according to this CDC Web page the flu shot is the only vaccine with thimerosal given to young children: “Today, with the exception of some Influenza (flu) vaccines, none of the vaccines used in the U.S. to protect preschool children against 12 infectious diseases contain thimerosal as a preservative,” it says.

But is thimerosal really cause for paranoia? Here’s a link to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, which concluded “Our study does not support a causal association between early exposure to mercury from thimerosal-containing vaccines and immune globulins and deficits in neuropsychological functioning at the age of 7 to 10 years.” The Institute for Vaccine Safety has links to more articles, many of which seem to find no link between vaccines and thimerosal and autism or other pervasive developmental disorders.

But then this article at the Autism Research Institute Web site challenges the CDC claim that “the available scientific evidence has not shown thimerosal-containing vaccines to be harmful” and cites a bunch of books and articles suggesting the opposite.

Go here for the full list of who should get the vaccine according to the CDC. (They recommend it for pregnant women and people over 50 too.)

So what’s a mom to do? I haven’t decided. I’ll be contacting my pediatrician to see if he has any thoughts. And in the meantime, I’m going to experiment with a little poll and find out who among you is planning to do the flu shot. Not that it’ll necessarily sway my decision, but I am interested in how many parents are going the flu shot route. If you've got any thoughts on the matter, leave a comment too.

I’m glad the vaccine’s not recommended for babies under six months – so at least there’s no decision-making required for Owen (who, by the way is exactly 3 months old today – time’s flying!).

Do you do flu shots with your kids (or yourself)?
No flu vaccine for my kid, thank you.
Bring on the flu vaccine; who needs another bout of illness this winter?
Still making up my mind.
I don’t have young kids but I get the flu shot myself.
I don’t have young kids but I steer clear of the flu shot myself.
Free polls from


Monkey's Mommy said...

From the beginning we were pretty good with getting Eli his flu shot. My husband's an elementary school teacher and I work in healthcare so we get exposed to germ all the time so we thought it best to "protect" him as much as possible. Last year, same story. Usually I get a free shot, David takes his chances since teachers aren't in the high risk category (which is insane but I digress).

David gets the flu a week before Christmas. And then what do you know, both Eli & I get the flu as well - confirmed during an ER visit where we discovered Eli had croup and the flu. Last Christmas = not much fun.

So now we're unsure what to do. It's only certain strains it protects against and we're just not sure how what we'll opt to do this year.

Our Farm: Keith & Megan said...

HI Annie

This is Megan, April's friend.
Glad you like the farm! I just posted a video Will might like. I wanted to post more but it just doesn't work for me...

I don't get the flu shot, never have and my kids when they were small (20 something years ago - ykies!) didn't get flu shots either. I don't think it was available then, don't know but they didn't get them. I lean towards the building up of the immune system route.

I feel for you Mothers of young children, it seemed easier "back in my day"- there just wasn't as much infomation out there or at least not so easily available. You just did what your Mom or your neighbors did.

But it is fun reading your blog and your kids are adorable!


Hilary said...

Wish I'd read Dr Cave's book before I allowed myself to get the flu shot while pregnant with my second child, then gave her all shots on schedule even though she was preemie. Now we're dealing with autism.

April said...

The kids and I don't ever get flu shots. The anecdotal evidence in my life supports the idea that getting the flu shot doesn't prevent the flu because the flu mutates so rapidly and what you get innoclulated against isn't what you will be exposed to. But more than that, I focus my health care efforts on keeping my kids' immune systems as strong as I can. Eating well, getting adequate sleep, being out in the fresh air lots, doing things that make us happy. Those are things I enjoy focusing on. Sicknesses are opportunities for building natural immunity, not to mention opportunities for some cuddly, down-time for parents and little ones. I realize that we are in a very fortunate time and place where we don't see much death or permanent disability caused by these now preventable diseases. But it also seems unnatural and potentially harmful to flood a young immune system with pathogens, inert or not, to prevent illness. I prefer the old-fashioned way of building immunity, I suppose. Plus the whole family loves to make and eat chicken soup!

AJ's mommy said...

I had not even thought about thimerosal in Flu shots, Annie! I knew it was in the MMR but it just never even occured to me that it might be in flu shots. Thank you so much, you made the decision easy for me. We will take our chances with the flu this year. There has just not been enough research to calm my worried mind. I tend not to trust the CDC on this one, since have worked with more families than I can count that regret ever immunizing their child. Thank you again Annie, I owe you one!

Grace said...

I got a flu shot once and promptly got the flu! I do not get it and neither do my two children. I'm with April, it seems the strains mutate too quickly and it doesn't work.

Annie Addington said...

Thanks for your thoughts. Stay tuned: I'm still puzzling over this issue and working on a follow-up column with more experts weighing in next week. If you're just reading this for the first time now, keep the comments coming. (Stories like yours, Hilary, are heartwrenching to hear -- and part of the reason it's difficult for me to make any decision lightly. Thank you for sharing.)