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Fear of the flu?

December 14th, 2003 · 2 Comments

How many pictures have I seen, of children screaming , syringe in their arms, while receiving a flu shot….

and how guilty do I feel that I didn’t get our family immunized?!

I try to avoid any vaccinations that have not been extensively tested through time and exposure, or that I don’t think are necessary. For example, I’ve decided to wait to see if my children will get chickenpox instead of automatically giving them the vaccine in infancy. To me it seems to be a pretty tame disease. My siblings and I all got it at the same time in March of my eighth grade; sure it was hard for my mom for a couple weeks but we ended up fine in the end.

But then again, the definition of danger depends on the eye of the beholder. I have seen at least a few physicians, in my short time as mom, look over their glasses at me, in dismay and disapproval, after hearing about my decision to postpone varicella vaccination. Children do die from chickenpox, they have told me. The difference is that these physicians have seen things happen that I haven’t. Doctors see all sorts of tragedy and disasters and rarity is reality for them: they think, why take the risk?

So with the flu, I’ve felt that I was breaking the rules of being a good mom by not getting the girls vaccinated this year. But I don’t usually get a flu shot for me or for them. We get the flu and we get through it. This year though with all the media hype and the scary stories, I’ve really been considering getting shots for our family. I have thought about it a lot, especially when we were all ill in November. Another round of intense sickness would not be fun, even frightening.

But I waited too long, and now the only one in our family who would qualify for the new rationing of the vaccine would be Elisabeth, who falls into the 6 to 23 month age range. Tomorrow I have an appointment for her to get her other vaccines, and I’m not sure what to do about the flu. I have concerns also about getting too many shots at one time. She’s scheduled to get MMR tomorrow, and Abigail at least had a reaction to that one (not sure if I remember Michaela’s), getting bumps and a fever. So I don’t want to overload our baby’s immune system.

Last time I was at the clinic, for Elisabeth’s ear infection, the doctor told me that the vaccine made especially for children was gone, and the only one left was one containing thimerosal. Although studies have disputed, disproven the link between this mercury-containing preservative and autism, I’m still not sure I want to give it to my baby. The fact that all vaccines given to children are now thimerosal-free indicates to me that there is at least some concern about this.

And, as far as I know, it is not yet clear whether the vaccine this year will be effective against the virus that has now spread throughout the country.
This article in today’s Seattle Times Severe flu season not of pandemic proportions is one of the first ones I’ve seen that says we may already have some protection:

The Fujian strain is the result of a slight genetic change that occurred to an H3N2 virus that has been circulating for years. That means people’s immune systems have not been exposed to that precise virus previously, making them more susceptible to infection. Because it was discovered too late to be included in this year’s vaccine — although a close relative was included — the vaccine probably is not as protective as it has been in past years.

But most people have had at least some exposure to other H3N2 viruses, making it likely that their immune systems have some power to protect against them.

I think I also saw a quote by CDC director Julie Gerberding, somewhere on the Web this weekend, saying that most people will survive the flu fine. Maybe it’s just me, and I haven’t been combing carefully through the news, but it seems interesting to me that this angle of natural immunity and normal survival is mentioned now that the vaccine supplies are disappearing.

I imagine our family falls pretty low on the exposure range, since none of us go to school or to an office: we’re all at home all day. Our risk of getting the flu is probably lower than most. We’re taking precautions and being careful about washing hands, taking echinacea and C occasionally too. Trying to get some sleep, although this Santa’s been staying up too late:)

Knowing what I know about the immune response, I figure that the fear of the flu, fear and anxiety, can be a big factor too. Fear certainly seems to be the message the media are sending: Be afraid of the flu. I want to be wise. But I don’t want to be afraid.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Gordon Weakliem // Dec 15, 2003 at 9:54 am

    It’s bad in Colorado, last I heard there were 6,000 cases and 8 people had died, all children. But OTOH, I know of several people who got very sick after getting vaccinated. This year shows just how futile a vaccination can be – the vaccination “might help”, or it might just make you mildly sick and offer no protection. Couple that with an outright shortage of the vaccine. I had thought the hype was biggest in CO, since we had West Nile over the summer and now a bad flu season, but I guess it’s all over. I do like that several of the local media outlets have put out articles saying basically that washing your hands frequently and avoiding contact with sick people are excellent protections from the flu.
    One other crazy thing I saw was when I went to visit my wife’s grandfather in the hospital. The hospital had signs up asking people who had had the nasal vaccine in the last 3 weeks not to enter the patient rooms: apparently you’re contagious for 3 weeks after getting the vaccine. That hardly seems like an effective strategy for preventing an epidemic.

  • 2 Katherine Fedor // Dec 20, 2003 at 1:33 pm

    We never get flu shots. I think David did one year with folks from work as a group thing. David and I were sick this fall but the kids never got whatever we had. We wash our hands every time we come in from being out in public, as well as the other logical times.