Why My Family Doesn't Get the Flu Vaccine

  Photo Credit:   vinyl_word   via   Compfight     cc

Photo Credit: vinyl_word via Compfight cc

Unless you live far below the earth’s surface in a subterranean dwelling with no television or internet, you are probably aware that we are in the midst of flu season and that this particular flu season is VERY BAD. Bad. Bad. Bad. Everyone has the flu. “Run – don’t walk – to get your flu shot!” is the message coming from every media conduit.

Flu season and the flu shot has been the topic of conversation at my yoga class, my book club, and at basically every gathering I’ve attended over the past couple of weeks. I’ve got friends texting me at all hours of the night asking me if I’ve taken my boys to get shots yet.

And I almost did. Twice. I made two separate appointments and then cancelled them.

Here’s why.

I had not made any plans to get flu shots. My children had never received flu shots. Because they were born in the early summer, the flu shot always comes up on rotation during the summer – aka NOT flu season. My doctor has always advised me to skip it and never questions me again during flu season since my children don’t go to full time day care.

However, this year was different. It wasn’t my doctor questioning me about whether or not I wanted my boys to receive the shot – it was everyone else. The scary stories of young children dying from the flu are abundant and it seemed like everyone had one for me.

And yet, I kept hesitating .Finally, after backing out twice,  I realized I was making a decision based on fear and outside pressure which is something I try never to do.

So, I took a deep breath and decided to look at some of the research. One of the first articles I found mentioned meta-analysis done by the Cochran Collaboration. No study is perfect, which is why the Cochran Collaboration analyses all the research and attempts to reach a conclusion.

Last year, the organization looked at 75 studies on flu vaccines in children and reached the following conclusions:

Influenza vaccines are efficacious in preventing cases of influenza in children older than two years of age, but little evidence is available for children younger than two years of age. There was a difference between vaccine efficacy and effectiveness, partly due to differing datasets, settings and viral circulation patterns. No safety comparisons could be carried out, emphasising the need for standardisation of methods and presentation of vaccine safety data in future studies. In specific cases, influenza vaccines were associated with serious harms such as narcolepsy and febrile convulsions. It was surprising to find only one study of inactivated vaccine in children under two years, given current recommendations to vaccinate healthy children from six months of age in the USA, Canada, parts of Europe and Australia. If immunisation in children is to be recommended as a public health policy, large-scale studies assessing important outcomes, and directly comparing vaccine types are urgently required. The degree of scrutiny needed to identify all global cases of potential harms is beyond the resources of this review.

This review includes trials funded by industry. An earlier systematic review of 274 influenza vaccine studies published up to 2007 found industry-funded studies were published in more prestigious journals and cited more than other studies independently from methodological quality and size. Studies funded from public sources were significantly less likely to report conclusions favourable to the vaccines. The review showed that reliable evidence on influenza vaccines is thin but there is evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions and spurious notoriety of the studies. The content and conclusions of this review should be interpreted in the light of this finding.
— Cochran Collaboration

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

The authors further conclude that six children need to be vaccinated with the live attenuated virus for one case of the flu to be prevented.

I know it sounds silly but I was starting to feel like every child who wasn’t vaccinated got the flu and every child who got the flu ended up in the hospital on the precipice of death. I knew logically that wasn’t true but the pressure I was receiving to get the flu shot had made me feel that way.

In actuality, your child has to get the vaccine with the live virus (which many pediatrician’s offices don’t carry) and then the vaccine has to be a good match with the strand circulating that year (which isn’t always the case) and then your child has to be the one in six for which the vaccine actually prevents the flu. The odds for things going badly are also small – although how small is hard to say since there are no real statistics on how many children die from the flu each year.

Either way, for me and my family the numbers simply aren’t strong enough. My approach to medical care is very hands off. I understand that modern medicine is life-saving for so many but – for the most party – I believe a healthy human body is better when left alone. If you want to do anything to my body or to the bodies of my children, you have better have a very good reason with very good research to back it up.

That’s the reason I have my children at home. That’s the reason I vaccinate on an alternate schedule. That’s the reason I did not circumcise my sons.

Trying to scare me with a one in a million scenario will not work. In fact, if I feel like I’m trying to be scared into something the chances are that much better I won’t do it.

I understand that not everyone feels that way and that is absolutely fine with me. However, I do wish that there was room for different approaches – especially in regards to the flu vaccine. I’ve had so many friends that chose not to vaccinate their children tell me they have gotten dirty looks or actually been accused of endangering the lives of their children and others.

The research on the vaccine is simply not strong enough to justify that kind of judgment. So often we go out of our way to make room for different approaches – from cloth diapers to day care to time out, we all know there are no “right answers” when it comes to mothering. We each take the information available to us and look at it through the prism of our own beliefs and experiences. Then – and most importantly – we do the best we can for our children.

The flu vaccine is no different.

This post originally appeared on Salt & Nectar.