A Mom Explains Why She's Still A Flu Shot Fan
Dec 21, 2009

By Dena Penner
Dena Wichansky Penner is a health education and communications consultant to non-profit maternal and child health organizations, including Every Child By Two.  She is the former Director of Communications for the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition and the National Partnership for Immunization.
“You must have gotten the flu from your flu vaccine.”  I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that statement during last year’s flu season!  Despite being vaccinated against seasonal flu early last October, my 5-year-old daughter, one-year-old son and I all contracted the flu several months later.  Through my coughing, I patiently explained to the questioners that it would be impossible for us to “catch” the flu from a flu shot, since the viruses used in the vaccine are inactivated.  As someone who has worked on the issue of immunization for many years, this was the ultimate irony.  I am a firm believer in immunization, and I had done everything right, getting vaccinations for myself and my children at the start of that flu season.  In fact, I wouldn’t have believed that we actually had the flu if it hadn’t been confirmed by nose swab tests.  (This is a procedure where you feel as if the nurse is sticking a cotton swab through your nose and into your brain.  Almost a year later, my daughter still fearfully asks me each and every time we visit the pediatrician, “Do we have to get a nose test?”
Unfortunately, while the flu vaccine provides excellent protection from the virus, it is not 100% effective.  When the flu vaccine is created each year, its manufacturers must match the virus strains in the vaccine with those circulating in the community.  If these virus strains are not closely matched, the vaccine is less effective.  However, getting vaccinated is still extremely beneficial, because even if you get sick, it reduces the severity of flu symptoms.  My guess is that this is what happened to us.  Despite our bout with the flu, I am still a strong believer in the vaccine, and my children and I were vaccinated again this year.  Why?  Because, of the three of us, I was actually the one who had the worst symptoms of the flu.  Both children had low-grade fevers, but once they had some Tylenol in them, they were basically back to their normal selves, running and playing.  The importance of the vaccine was made clear when I was at the pediatrician’s office for the second time with my daughter (who actually got sick with two different strains of the disease).  I expressed my frustrations about the situation to the doctor, and wondered why I had bothered to get vaccinated.  My doctor looked at my daughter dancing around the exam room and commented, “Be glad you got them vaccinated.  If you hadn’t, you would have been carrying her in here.”  I have seen the tragic stories of families whose children were completely healthy one day and seriously ill or dead the next after contracting the flu.  I will do everything possible to make sure my family isn’t one of those stories.

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