This article was originally printed as a guest post on BlogHer, Dec. 7, 2010, under the title, Why Everyone Should Get A Flu Shot, in honor of National Influenza Vaccination Week.
By Christine Vara
Last year at this time, the H1N1 virus, also referred to as the “swine flu,” had us all rather panicked. People were anxious to get vaccinated against the flu then. But what about now?
My guess is that the media attention given to the H1N1 epidemic last year left a skeptical public uncertain about the impact of the flu, and the safety and effectiveness of flu shots in general.
Regrettably, H1N1 made itself personally known to my family last year when my own 9-year-old daughter, Marissa, received a positive diagnosis. Unfortunately, she contracted H1N1 before a vaccine became available. I’ll admit that my husband and I were very concerned. In the back of our minds, we knew that she could easily become a tragic statistic, and the feeling was one of helplessness.
We did our best to quarantine her in order to keep the virus from spreading to our other four children. We tried to make her as comfortable as possible in her room, and gave her a walkie-talkie to call us with when she needed something. My husband even downloaded a week’s worth of Brady Bunch, Partridge Family and Happy Days reruns to keep her entertained. Her sisters slipped get well cards under her door and we served her meals on special trays that only my husband or I would handle and deliver.
After a week or so, my daughter recovered and resumed life as usual. It sure is interesting how a brief brush with an unpredictable disease can change your perspective. The unspoken fear that we faced last year has faded into a childhood memory for Marissa. Surprisingly, it appears that public memory has been short-lived as well — which troubles me as a mom of five active kids.
Due to the heightened concern from last year’sH1N1 outbreak, I would have guessed that more people would be inclined to get flu shots this year. Unfortunately, it appears that a significant portion of the public is more concerned about potential side effects of the vaccine than with the consequences of falling ill with influenza.
A survey of 1,500 adults, recently conducted by The Consumer Reports National Research Center, indicated that 30 percent of those surveyed will skip the flu shot this year, citing concerns about side effects, exaggerated epidemic messages, and a desire to build up their own immune systems.
Another recent Time article indicates that this sentiment is echoed among many parents. The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) questioned more than 600 mothers of kids ages 6 to 18, and revealed that 80 percent of mothers said their attitude toward vaccination was not swayed by last year’s H1N1 scare and one-third were opting to forgo flu vaccination for their children, citing fear of side effects as their main concern.
What the public may fail to understand is that seasonal flu vaccines are extremely safe. Consider the fact that flu vaccines are administered year after year to a large percentage of the population. Because of this, they are some of the most widely used and well tested immunizations being administered today and their safety record is proven.
So what is all the worry about? Some minimal discomfort and minor side effects?
Unfortunately, many of the common worries are actually based on unfounded myths.
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More positive exposure (pardon the pun) on immunizations and vaccinations appeared in a special insert in today’s LA Times. The insert, which features a compilation of various articles, is a great boost to vaccine advocates, eager to educate the public on the importance of vaccinations.
Every Child By Two celebrity spokesperson, Amanda Peet, appears on the cover and defends the importance of vaccination with her featured story. Other articles highlight everything from recommendations for the seasonal flu shot and concern over the current whooping cough epidemic, to information about immunizations for travelers and how vaccines have shaped modern public health.
And you won’t want to miss another great inspirational story that highlights Every Child By Two spokesperson, Luke Duvall. The detailed account of Luke’s battle with H1N1 comes to life through this compelling story and his determination to spread the message about the importance of immunization against the flu really hits hard.
Be sure to check out the full details of this insert here and share it with your friends and family.
By Christine Vara
Yesterday, I read an LA Times article, written by Pamela Nguyen, a resident physician in pediatrics at UCLA’s Mattel Children’s Hospital. Sadly, the article confirmed what I had already suspected. Due to the fact that vaccines have been highly effective, it is not uncommon for medical students and residents to go through their training without ever seeing vaccine preventable diseases such as measles, mumps and pertussis.
While on the one hand this statement can be considered a rallying cry for vaccine advocates, on the other hand, some are smart enough to realize that this is why we find ourselves at risk. Without prevalent disease society fails to see a threat. Subsequesntly there is less fear of disease and some wrongly believe less need for immunization.
In referring to measles, Ms. Nguyen states that, “In four years as a medical student and three years as a pediatric resident, I have never seen a case. As a result, all I know about the illness, I learned from textbooks.” However, she substantiates the significance of measles by stating that “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease remains the leading cause of vaccine-preventable deaths in children. In 2007, there were 197,000 measles deaths worldwide, 90% of them in children younger than 5. That is nearly 450 deaths every day.”
What these statistics suggest is that although vaccines have been effective in limiting the number of cases we see in this country, vaccine refusal and inaccessibility continues to perpetuate the risks of diseases making a comeback here in the states, as they still remain a concern worldwide.
What I found to be especially compelling was her recent encounter with a patient who had brought her five year old child in for an H1N1 shot. Surprisingly, the child had never received any other immunization. When offered other vaccines, she again declined.
As Ms. Nguyen states, “She explained matter-of-factly that it was because the flu was “going around” whereas the other vaccine-preventable diseases, she said, were no longer a threat. She went on to tell me that she was a lawyer who had grown up in a country where measles is still endemic. Since moving to the U.S., she had never known anyone to suffer from measles, but she did know several children who had autism. So, while she understood that vaccinations had not been definitively shown to cause autism, she felt that, here in America, the risk of autism was a bigger threat than that of vaccine-preventable diseases.”
Basically what this says to me is that fear is an effective motivator. In this case, fear of the unsubstantiated suggestion that vaccines can cause autism prompted this parent to decline all vaccines for her child. However, publicized deaths as a result of H1N1 created enough fear to drive this same person to receive a vaccine.
Does this make sense? Are we a society that only responds to fear and not common sense? And if so, are we not fearful when we hear of an infant diagnosed, or even dying, from a vaccine preventable disease?
We need only to look at another LA Times article to prove this point. It details a “cautionary tale” of a new mom, who unknowingly infected her two children with pertussis, resulting in the death of her 17 day old son Dylan.
The article explains that the problem was in the diagnosis. Dylan’s mother had a serious cough for several weeks prior to delivery. She encountered a variety of doctors and medical personnel during that time, but only the pediatrician checking Dylan seemed to suspect that she had pertussis. Even then, that suspicion failed to elicit treatment. When following up with her physician, he dismissed the possibility of pertussis and diagnosed her with a cold. Perhaps this goes back to the “learning from textbook” phenomenon. As a doctor, if you’ve never seen it and think it’s rare, than it’s unlikely you would diagnose it.
The sad reality is that pertussis is highly infectious and extremely dangerous for infants. As the article states, four newborns, all younger than 3 months, have died in California so far this year, already exceeding last year’s total of three whooping cough-related deaths.
I would venture to guess that the Bianchi family would encourage others to receive booster shots in order to protect themselves and other infant children from pertussis; much like we are seeing with Callie Van Tornhout’s family and countless other parents who currently advocate for vaccines. But why does this kind of awareness have to come at such a price? What steps must we take to ensure that every child is protected?
Ms. Nguyen’s concludes her article with a call to action. “It is time to change our perspective and make the safety of all children our priority. The first step is to demand stricter guidelines for personal-belief exemptions. Vaccinations should be mandatory for public school entry in all but the rarest of cases. The next step is to put pressure on private and charter schools to follow these same guidelines. It is selfish for parents who intentionally don’t vaccinate to make other children vulnerable.” I would like to add that we should be encouraging booster shots for adults as well, to limit disease in general and to protect those too young to be vaccinated.
Do you feel the need to address vaccine refusal in order to reduce risk of disease to the greater public? Is fear the only motivator that will prove to be effective? In what ways can we approach this challenge? Share your comments so that we can all be part of the conversation and solution.
By Amy Pisani
H1N1 is back in the news as the Southeast is again reporting cases. It seems no coincidence that the states reporting the lowest vaccination rates against H1N1 (Georgia only reported a 21% vaccination rate) are now suffering from outbreaks once again (yes I know it is also likely due to weather patterns, but it is shameful that the people who live in the Centers for Disease Control’s home state take diseases the least serious!). New England reported the highest rates of vaccination, with Rhode Island at the top of the pack (39% of the population was immunized), while the South reports the lowest coverage.
Vaccines remain unused and will be destroyed if they reach their expiration dates. With that in mind it would seem prudent to get vaccinated if you haven’t done so yet. While next year’s seasonal flu vaccine will include the H1N1 strain, it seems the virus does not plan to stay on the vaccine development timeline!
On a lighter note, here is a video whose humor truly gets to the point. I’m voting it the best H1N1 video of the year!
By Amy Pisani
It seems like we’ve been hearing less about H1N1 recently, but it’s important to be mindful of the uncertainty of this virus, and to continue to protect ourselves through vaccination. Experts are not willing to close the book on H1N1 just yet. According to today’s Washington Post, “Influenza transmission waxes and wanes, and outbreaks of novel pandemic strains occur in particularly unpredictable waves that depend on such variables as human behavior, atmospheric conditions and even competition from other microbes. That places them among the bigger mysteries of epidemiology, the science of disease outbreaks.”
The Posts David Brown explains that, “ The ‘Spanish flu’ of 1918 had four waves of greatly differing deadliness, spread over two years. The “Asian flu” of 1957, like the current H1N1 strain, had a late-spring and a fall wave — followed by a third in late winter of 1958. It then took a year off before peaking again in 1960. The ‘Hong Kong flu’ of 1968 had more than a year hiatus between its two waves, with the second infecting nearly as many people as the first.”
Read the full article, here.
Check out the following items from our friends at Families Fighting Flu. They have some excellent resources to offer!
Participate in the Families Fighting Flu Survey!
FFF created an online survey to help gauge parents’ behaviors and attitudes about flu vaccination this flu season in comparison to previous non-pandemic seasons. By completing the survey, parents of children aged 6 months to 18 years will have the opportunity to win a $250 American Express gift card. One winner will be randomly selected and notified via e-mail by March 31, 2010. We encourage you to participate and spread the news to all eligible parents! The survey is available here from February 18 through March 12. We look forward to sharing the results.
Families Fighting Flu: A Guide For Parents
For important information about influenza, check out the blog Families Fighting Flu: A Guide for Parents by Jon Abramson, M.D. and his daughter Rebecca. Dr. Abramson, a medical advisor and ex-officio board member of FFF has been working in the area of influenza since 1981. Dr. Abramson and his daughter created this blog to educate parents and address some of the misinformation about the flu and flu vaccination.
Did you know that three human influenza pandemics occurred in the 20th century, each resulting in illness in approximately 20 to 30 percent of the world population? You can read more about pandemics in the latest chapter, Pandemic Influenza Due to the 2009 Novel H1N1 Virus.
By Amy Pisani
Tonight my small town in Eastern Connecticut will yet again host an immunization clinic at a local high school to provide H1N1 vaccine to the public. Special efforts have been made by our health district to reach out to young children who have not yet received their second dose of vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children nine and under need two doses in order to be fully protected against the virus. I am somewhat mortified to admit that I have been remiss in getting my nine and a half year old that second dose. My son’s story has been told by me on numerous occasions, he was hospitalized as an infant for complications from influenza, an experience I do not wish on my worst enemy.
I am a consummate supporter of timely vaccination of children. What is my excuse then? It seems that work travel and after school activities took priority again and again as clinics were scheduled. During a recent clinic, I traveled to D.C. to accompany Luke Duvall, Arkansas H1N1 survivor, as he spoke to the press and his Senator about his harrowing experience. I’ve reiterated his story countless times in an effort to urge friends and neighbors to get vaccinated. It’s nearly unconscionable that I would then allow this lapse in my own family. My embarrassing point is that if I am remiss, how many others who do not live and breathe vaccines daily are simply blowing off the CDC’s and Health and Human Services pleas to the public? I must assume that this number is in the millions based on the number of doses still available. So tonight I am volunteering at the clinic and my husband and son will be vaccine recipients, come hell or high water!