The Flu: to vaccinate or not to vaccinate

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Back in October, my husband, me and our family members who come in close contact with Sienna all got the flu shot. When it became available, we also received the H1N1 vaccine. I didn't think twice about it because I wanted to make sure Sienna was protected and she was too young to get the shots.

This week Sienna turned 6 months, which means she is now eligible for the vaccinations. However, the decision whether or not to vaccinate her, I felt was much more complicated. In addition to being scheduled for the flu shots, she was supposed to also get four other vaccinations. When I thought about her little body enduring six vaccinations at once, my stomach started to churn. Don't get me wrong, I am all for inoculating children. I've done a lot of reading and I do believe the benefit of getting vaccinated outweigh the so called "theoretical" risks. In addition, her regularly scheduled vaccinations were thimerosal free, but not the flu shots.

When I expressed concerns to the RN, she assured me that the flu shot, even though it did have trace amounts of thimerosal, was safe. I still wasn't comfortable. Then something odd happened. It was not what she said or didn't say, or the tone of her voice; she remained very pleasant... but I could tell by her body language and the way she started banging on the keyboard, that she was annoyed. Now, maybe I'm paranoid, but I have a feeling I was interpreting her reaction pretty accurately. I understand it. The flu sickens and kills a lot of people every year and vaccines are our best defense. After all, that's why I got vaccinated. But how a 32-year-old body handles toxins or preservatives is much different from a 6-month-old developing baby and that's what made me nervous.

For some time now there has been a lot of controversy over whether or not a preservative called thimerosal, which used to be in ALL vaccinations, was in some way linked to autism. Study after study has shown that there is no concrete evidence that the amount of thimerosal that WAS used in vaccinations causes autism or developmental delays. However, there is still a strong belief out there among many parents that there is a link between a "toxin" in vaccinations and developmental disorders in children. For the past several years, the government has worked towards eliminating thimerosal from vaccinations. However, there are still trace amounts of the preservative in the flu vaccine as well as the H1N1 vaccine. Although there is sufficient evidence that these trace amounts do not harm a child or infant, it still makes me uneasy. As I mentioned much of the popular literature out there still labels thimerosal as a toxin with potentially detrimental effects.

I started doing some more research because the decision to give Sienna the flu vaccine was harder to make than I had anticipated. I'm not going to inundate you with the blogs and websites devoted to linking vaccinations (especially those with thimerosal) to developmental problems; those are easy to find just by Googling the word. However, I did want to provide you with a link to the FDA's website.

Here are the two paragraphs I thought are important to parents.

    In its report of October 1, 2001, the IOM's Immunization Safety Review Committee concluded that the evidence was inadequate to either accept or reject a causal relationship between thimerosal exposure from childhood vaccines and the neurodevelopmental disorders of autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and speech or language delay. Additional studies were needed to establish or reject a causal relationship. The Committee did conclude that the hypothesis that exposure to thimerosal-containing vaccines could be associated with neurodevelopmental disorders was biologically plausible.
    In 2004, the IOM's Immunization Safety Review Committee issued its final report, examining the hypothesis that vaccines, specifically the MMR vaccines and thimerosal containing vaccines, are causally associated with autism. In this report, the committee incorporated new epidemiological evidence from the U.S., Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, and studies of biologic mechanisms related to vaccines and autism since its report in 2001. The committee concluded that this body of evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism, and that hypotheses generated to date concerning a biological mechanism for such causality are theoretical only. Further, the committee stated that the benefits of vaccination are proven and the hypothesis of susceptible populations is presently speculative, and that widespread rejection of vaccines would lead to increases in incidences of serious infectious diseases like measles, whooping cough and Hib bacterial meningitis.
In addition, the report goes on to say that the government is working to produce MORE thimerosal free flu vaccinations. Now, each parent needs to read as much as possible about these studies and draw their own conclusions. I do not believe there is a right or wrong answer. I think each family has to take their own genetic history into consideration, as well as this information and advice from their doctor. But science and studies aside, I think it is extremely important to feel comfortable with the decision you are making for your child and not feel as though you are being pressured by your doctor, nurse, friends or family to say "yes" or "no" to the flu shot, or anything else for that matter.

After all, it is your child and you are his or her number one advocate.

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