Tuesday, September 1, 2009

To Flu or Not To Flu

In the parenting world, vaccinations are a huge issue. Whether to vaccinate your child is a very important—and very personal—issue. So last week, when one of our local schools (to which, I might add, one of my coworker's kids attends and has been out sick for days) had 25 percent of its children out with flu-like symptoms, I decided it was time to make the decision: Do I or do I not give Kensie the flu vaccination?

Let me back up a bit. Before Kensie was born, I did a lot of research on vaccinating and came to the conclusion that, for the time being, breast-feeding was the best way to go. When K was born, I did not allow the doctors to administer the Hepatitis B vaccine that they pushed on me right after her birth because it is a blood- and bodily fluid–borne virus, I did not have Hepatitis B myself and could therefore not have transferred it to her, and she was not likely to be sexually active anytime in the near future. I believe strongly that introducing foreign particles into a newborn child’s undeveloped immune system has the possibility of doing great harm, and I wasn’t about to subject my child to that danger.

When it came time for the first round of shots at about three months old, I made sure that all of Kensie’s shots were administered unbundled and spread out (meaning separate shots, not one that contained all three vaccines [DTP], and each spread out over several weeks). I also made sure that none contained thimerosal, a preservative thought to be a factor in the onset of autism. From my research, this decision would prevent overwhelming her under-developed immune system while still giving her the security she needed from the vaccine, as well as helping protecting her from the possibility of contracting an autoimmune disorder down the road. With this decision, I had very little support from the medical community. My doctor nor any of her nurses offered support and, in fact, were pretty ugly to me when I told them to hold off on certain vaccines and asked that they stray from their regular “procedures” for my child; but I stuck to my guns. Again, I chose to hold off on Hepatitis B for the same reason as before, and I also chose against the Polio and Rotavirus vaccines (though a friend of mine’s little one got Rotavirus, and it was not pretty). So Kensie ended up initially getting the DTP and Hib vaccines.

At six months old, Kensie got the routine vaccines she had gotten before (DTP and Hib), but I still laid off on the rest, as I was still breast-feeding and felt she was getting the protection she needed from my breast milk.

At her one-year appointment, I decided it was time to go ahead with the Polio and Rotavirus vaccines, mainly because wild strains of Polio do exist and can spread through the community quickly, as it did in the early 1900s, and become an epidemic if many are left unvaccinated. But also, I was no longer breast-feeding and providing Kensie with the security of my vaccinations. (My girlfriend’s story about her child getting the Rotavirus was all I needed on that one.)

So now, at two years old, I have to make a decision about the flu vaccination. And with all that’s in the news about the flu, the swine flu, wild variations of flu being found everyday, it’s a tough decision to make. I see stories all the time (a recent Dateline episode convinced me I had made the right decision about unbundling and spreading out K’s vaccines early on) about vaccinating and autism—about how the numbers of cases of autoimmune diseases are rising at an enormous rate while no one really seems to know what’s causing these new “disorders” that are affecting so many of our children today. And it's hard to know what to believe!

The first thing I did was call the doctor and make an appointment for K to get the vaccine. All parents know how hard it can be to get a doctor’s appointment (especially nonemergency), and if I decided I want to get Makensie vaccinated, I wanted to be able to do it ASAP. Then I began to do research (as I had done in the beginning). I’m a huge fan of Heather Armstrong’s blog dooce.com, so I decided to check there first. On her homepage was a “Momversation” about whether flu shots will make your child sick (lucky break!). I watched that, and most of those moms, including Heather, planned to vaccinate the entire family.

Next, I googled “Flu Mist” (Kensie’s doctor only offers the mist, which, to me, sounds a lot better than a shot, being my kid’s only two years old). On the CDC site, it explained that the FluMist® is better in that it’s not a shot (score for Kensie), and some studies show it may even be better at protecting from the flu than the actual shot (score for Kensie and Mommy). However, it does contain live virus, which the shot does not (that makes me nervous, as somehow, every time I get the flu shot, I get sick even though they swear it’s not the flu, and that has no live virus!), though it is weakened and supposedly cannot cause the flu. The side effects seem minimal (though nothing is minimal to a two-year-old who doesn’t get why she’s feeling so terrible): runny nose, headache, wheezing, vomiting, muscle aches, sore throat, cough, and fever. But children (up to 9) have to get two doses, one and then another a month or so later, and then protection doesn’t start for a couple of weeks after the second dose. Note from CDC: “If your child needs the two doses, begin the process early, so that children are protected before influenza starts circulating in your community.” Um, a little too late for that here!

So, I’ve decided that Kensie needs to get the flu shot, and right away! Her appointment is Thursday, so about November, when the flu season has been in full bloom for a few months and swine flu has reared its ugly head in just about every school in Alabama, Kensie will be protected.

No matter how hard you try or how early you get a jump on things as a parent, it seems as if you never try hard enough and never begin early enough. And just when you think you’ve got it all under control, the universe hits you with the swine flu!