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!).