I don't understand why some parents think flu shots are different than other vaccines

As a rule, I try not to get sucked into Facebook debates. Picking fights with online strangers is not something I aspire to do. However, when I see a complete lack of logic and false statements spreading like wildfire, I feel compelled to speak up.

Flu season is starting. A quick look at this week’s Flu View published by the CDC during flu season illustrates this. The southern states are starting to turn yellow and orange with increased flu activity although New Jersey was blazing red this week. There was a story last week about a 4-year old girl in Florida who became gravely ill from the flu, and almost died. Thankfully she is recovering and doing much better.

Yesterday the popular Baby Sideburns blog picked up this story and put up a post on its Facebook page.  The parents of the little girl were interviewed and admitted they had wished she had gotten her flu shot then there was this statement from Baby Sideburns, “It’s not too late. Get your child vaccinated.”

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I completely agree. All four of us got our flu shots back in October. The pediatrician even did mine in the same visit with the kids. My 7-year old son got a kick out of watching mommy get jabbed with a needle while he escaped the pinch since he was given FluMist in his nose.

Anyway, back to the Baby Sideburns post. I violated the first rule of any controversial post and started reading the comments. My face became just as red as the color of New Jersey on the CDC map when I saw some of these statements, “Is the flu shot really a vaccine though?” “I think the reason the flu keeps getting ‘worse’ every year is because the virus keeps mutating due to everyone getting all these different flu vaccines every year.” This one could quite possibly be my favorite, “It (the shot) protects against influenza which is different than the regular flu.” Seriously, do people really believe this?

Still, I think what irritated me more was this common refrain about the flu shot being different than any other vaccine. “We don’t get the flu shot but I do vaccinate my children for everything else though” or “I agree with most vaccinations, but the flu shot isn’t necessary.” “We do vaccinate for all standard vaccines; except the influenza vaccine.”

So, let me get this straight, it’s okay to vaccinate children for measles, polio, diphtheria, you know, those diseases that thankfully are rare in this country now, but somehow it’s acceptable not to vaccinate against the flu which goes around every year? Not only does the flu go around every year but it kills. CDC also tracks pediatric mortality as part of Flu View. Last year, sadly 148 children died from the flu. During the 2012-13 flu season which was pretty severe, the CDC estimated that 90 percent of the children who died were unvaccinated. What a tragedy. We’ll never know how many of those over 100 children would be with us today if their parents vaccinated them.

I suppose I really don’t understand why some parents treat the flu shot as unnecessary because flu shots work the same way as every other vaccine. Among other things, this means herd immunity is critical for maximum efficacy but sadly we’ll never get there because of this prevailing attitude that the flu shot just isn’t necessary. Is that fair to cancer and transplant patients, tiny infants, and others who rely on herd immunity, not to mention our own children whose suffering can be prevented? Children like my son, who has allergy and asthma issues. He developed pneumonia back in the fall after contracting the common cold. I don’t want to think about what will happen if he comes down with the flu without being vaccinated.

Every pediatrician I have dealt with strongly recommends the flu shot each year. To illustrate how important they think it is, I’ll recall a conversation I had with our pediatrician in Connecticut before we moved here at the visit for my son’s first flu shot at 6 months old. He said, “Ask me how many children I have sent to the hospital because of the flu.” He wasn’t able to give me a number because there were so many. He insisted the flu shot was very necessary every year. I’ll take his advice above anything I read on Facebook or elsewhere on the Internet.

Then there is the “well it’s total guesswork on the strain in the shot” excuse. True, flu shots contain either 3 or 4 strains and there are many more. Most of the time, it’s a very educated guess and last year aside, the flu shot is generally a good match. CDC tracks this each year as well. But did you know that one of the “necessary” and “standard” vaccines, Prevnar 13 which protects against invasive bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae, only protects against 13 strains? Until a few years ago it was only 7 strains. However, there are more than 90 strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae, and I know firsthand that some of the remaining 77 strains do circulate in the community. Still, no one ever questions the decision to use this vaccine and unlike the flu shot, Prevnar 13 does not change year to year. Still, I will take protection against 3 or 4 or 13 strains of anything since that number is greater than 0.

Lastly, don’t even try to convince me you can get the flu from the flu shot. Read these misconceptions about the flu vaccine. If you don’t believe the CDC, and many don’t, I am confident if you do your own independent research you will arrive at the same answer.

Are vaccines perfect? No. Are they the best tool we have in preventing serious illnesses? Yes. In my view, if I have the power to prevent my children from suffering and am in the position to help prevent serious illness among those who cannot be vaccinated, of course I am going to do it. But that’s me.

Note, I am not a doctor or medical expert and nothing in here should be construed as medical advice. This is my opinion and experience based on my almost 8 years of parenting. Any questions should be directed to your doctor.

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Tags: parenting

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