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Is the Flu Shot Worth the Risk?

Weighing the Risks and Benefits to Getting the Flu Shot

Both the Center for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children 6 months and older should receive an influenza vaccine because the rate of infection is highest among children.   

My son went for his two-year visit to the pediatrician just last week and he was scheduled for a flu shot. Since he got one in years past, the nurse ordered the shots, assuming we would be agreeable.  The only reason we had gotten flu shots in the past, though, was because of the huge scare in 2009 about the H1N1 pandemic. Two years later, we thought it might not be necessary.  

The flu shot is not immunization, we were told. It is a vaccination that must be administered annually and works by introducing the virus to the body in a “controlled way” such that the body can develop antibodies as part of an immune response.

 “I cannot guarantee that your child will not get the flu,” said Dr. Rajender Totlani of in Bethlehem, “but, if he does get it, the vaccine will greatly reduce his symptoms.”

I value honesty in a doctor. He told us that the chances of him contracting the flu would be reduced and that if he did get a strain of the flu, the symptoms and likelihood of complications like pneumonia would be reduced. 

“If a child goes to day care it is recommended to get the flu vaccine,” said Dr. Totlani. “This includes influenza B virus and influenza A -- H3N2 and H1N1.”

I had not even considered H1N1. Before my son was born, the midwife I was seeing through my gynecologist told me to get a flu shot because of the seriousness of the H1N1 virus. 

When he was born in 2009, the hospital nurses told us that there were several infants who had the H1N1 virus and they were not doing well. I had no idea how serious H1N1 was until the nurse told me that she saw a child die the week before and that another baby might not make it. 

Both the pediatrician and my gynecologist recommended the family get vaccinated to prevent passing infection to the newborn who was too young to be vaccinated.

That November, I waited with all three children in line for four hours on a Saturday on Cedar Crest Boulevard only to find out that Lehigh Valley Network had no more vaccines to distribute at that location. 

That Sunday, we waited about two hours at Coca Cola Park and were vaccinated with the flu shot that day. 

My other concern was thimerosal and other toxic preservatives that turned out to be a non-issue. The live intranasal vaccine, which is apparently more effective than the flu shot, does not contain preservatives.

According to statistics by the AAP, 36,000 people die each year from influenza and several thousand more are hospitalized. Symptoms include fever, chills, sore throat, cough, muscle or body aches, fatigue, headache, runny or stuffy nose, vomiting and diarrhea. Those with the flu can infect others one day before symptoms develop.

We decided at his two year visit that the benefits outweighed any of the risks. We got the vaccine.

“You made a good decision,” said Dr. Totlani. Our son is in day care and, oddly, the day after he got the flu shot, a child went home with flu-like symptoms.  Although it does take up to two weeks to develop antibodies, it seemed almost like an affirmation that we did the right thing,

The mild flu-like symptoms the doctor said our son might get in a few days never showed up and, knock on wood, he celebrated another happy birthday this past weekend. 

Chandler January 11, 2013 at 01:19 PM
What is the risk of having the flu shot? A sore arm at the injection site for a day or two?
Mallory Vough January 11, 2013 at 02:23 PM
My father is allergic. Itchy, full-body rash for a week. I've never gotten a flu shot (I'm now 26) because everything he's allergic to, I'm allergic to. I'm afraid to find out if I'll have the same reaction -- or worse.

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