Wednesday, November 3, 2010

8 Reasons I Chose To Give my Kids the Flu Vaccine

On Monday William and Lucy had their 4-year and 18-month well-child checkups, respectively.  At this appointment I opted for both of my children to receive the flu vaccine.

There are many, many bloggers out there voicing their reasons for not vaccinating their children or for putting their children on a delayed or limited vaccine schedule.  For those families, that's what works for them.

But often times I come away from those posts feeling like a bad parent for choosing to vaccinate my children with the recommended schedule.  Viewpoints of vaccines have gotten very polarized and I don't feel that the pro-vaccine message is getting heard enough except from sources like the AAP or your own pediatrician.  So here's my own, non-expert, just-a-regular-informed-mother, viewpoint about the reasons I chose to give my kids the flu vaccine.

1.  We live in Minnesota.

Time and again Minnesota [and many other states in the North] ranks as a state with some of the highest flu statistics.  Outbreaks, hospitalizations and deaths.  I blame our climate.  From mid-October through mid-April you can bet every house in this state has their windows shut tight and doors sealed from any of that cold air seeping in.  This means that every indoor building receives very little circulation.  And you know how the flu spreads?  Through the air.  So even if you're diligent about dodging germ-prone areas or constantly washing your hands, you still can't hold your breath all day long.

2.  My kids go to school.  But that's not a good reason.

William being in his first year of preschool factored zero into my decision to vaccinate.  A lot of times I hear "my kid isn't in school" or "I don't send my children to daycare" as a reason not to vaccinate.  Unless you lock yourself in your house for seven months, you are exposed.  Do you go grocery shopping? Do you go to the library?  Do you have playdates?  Do you go to church?  Everywhere is sure to be a germ factory.

3.  I don't like playing the odds game.

If I don't vaccinate, what are the odds my child will get the flu?  Pretty low.  If they do get the flu what are the chances that he/she will be hospitalized?  Even lower.  And, really, what are the chances that they will die from the flu?  Virtually nill.

But you know what?  I've lost many, many times at the odds game so I don't like to play it.  What are the odds my son would have a spontaneous hole in his lung following birth?  What are the odds that an easily-curable hole in his lung would turn into a critical, life-or-death, so-not-textbook case?  What are the odds my daughter would need skull surgery at the tender age of six months?  See what I mean?  I suck at the odds game.

4.  I don't get mad at the flu vaccine for not doing what it wasn't intended to do.

So many people don't even know what influenza is.  Influenza is not the stomach flu.  It does not protect against the so-called "24-hour stomach bug" or food poisoning.

It also is not a common cold vaccine.  It does not protect against your everyday sneezing, coughing and runny nose.

Most people have never even had the flu.  The flu has common cold symptoms and is combined with extreme body aches, tiredness, and a high fever.  The flu often lasts a week or longer and most of the time prohibits the patient from maintaining their normal daily routine.  My brother had it last year and I think his comment sums it up best: "It feels like I'm going to die."  Probably a little sarcasm mixed in there but you get the picture.

5.  I know that the flu vaccine won't cause my kids to subsequently get the flu.

This is a fact, people.  Sometimes the person vaccinated will have a short bout of some mild flu-like symptoms.  Following his shots William had aching legs, a slight fever and was irritable.  All were manageable with Tylenol and all symptoms were gone within 12 hours.  Lucy had no side effects.

It's true that the vaccine does not cause you to have the flu.  However, this does not mean that you can't get the flu after having the vaccine.  Do not confuse the two statements.  The vaccine is not 100% effective and only gives you better immunities against fighting the flu.  It does mean, however, that if you are vaccinated and still contract influenza, you will probably experience more mild symptoms or you will be able to get well faster.

[Quick side story:  I breastfed William exclusively (meaning no formula supplementation) for 13 months.  But no matter how much I read about how much healthier it made him and how it protected him against all kinds of illnesses the kid still managed to get chronic ear infections.  I made my complaint to my pediatrician wondering if breastfeeding was doing any good.  She reminded me that if I wasn't breastfeeding who's to know if he wouldn't have double or triple the amount of ear infections and that he would have probably needed the surgery to insert tubes.  Bottom line, William's body was prone to ear infections but supplying him with antibodies through my breastmilk helped ease the severity to which he experienced these.]

6.  I've followed the money.

It is relatively easy to get the flu vaccine for free.  If the vaccine is combined with a preventative care appointment most insurance companies will pay for it.  In my mind, those big, bad, money-making insurance companies know what they're doing.  They've done the research.  They know the statistics.  They know that paying for an inexpensive vaccine will actually save them money in the long run.  If they can increase their chances that a patient won't get the flu then they can also increase their chances that the same patient won't have an office visit or be hospitalized.

Same with many workplaces.  Many employers are giving their employees flu shots for free.  Why?  Because they know if they protect their workers against the flu it means less sick days taken and more money in their pockets.

Whenever for-profit companies are offering something for free, you have to ask yourself what their motive is and what kind of research backs it.

7.  I'm not mad at the big, bad pharmaceutical companies for making so much money off the flu vaccine.

In fact, I feel pretty lucky.  Having big pharmaceutical companies that make a lot of money means that they can mass produce large quantities of vaccines and they can do it for cheap.  It means it's easily accessible for all.

Think of places like Africa where so many people die each day of easily-curable diseases.  Many of which have been completely eradicated from the United States thanks to vaccines.  I bet some of those developing countries wouldn't complain a bit if a Pfizer or GlaxoSmithKline opened up shop in their backyard.

8.  I trust my gut.

Let's face it, you can dig up information to back almost any vaccine stance you want to take.  But in the end you have to make a decision from your gut and from your heart.  For me, I'd rather do everything in my willpower to keep my kids healthy than watch my kids get sick and wish I had decided to do more.

In no way was this post meant to bully anyone into doing something they don't want to do or make them feel bad about their decision.  Rather, I felt the need to defend my own position.  But still, I'm curious: Did/Will you give your children the flu vaccine?  Why or why not?

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