health · parenting

Influenza vaccine for your child: yes or no?

Vaccines. One of the hottest topics among parents of my generation. After doing our research, my husband and I decided to have our kids vaccinated according to the national health recommendations. However, we still cannot fully wrap our heads around the influenza vaccine. The vaccine is not included in the recommendation list, but it’s strongly encouraged. Public health nurses even go to libraries on weekends to give the shot for free to young children. My workplace covers my and my kids’ shots.

I couldn’t help thinking, it’s just flu. Is it really necessary to pierce my kids with a needle for a flu that most likely they will catch anyway? Still, the strong vaccination campaign kept me thinking. And I did what I always do in these cases of wonder and doubt: I did my research!

Disclaimer: I’m no doctor, nor pretending to be one. I’ve tried to be as rigorous as possible and to trust reliable sources, but I have no degree in medicine. The aim of this post is to spare the same extensive online research to other parents, or at least to share some resources for them to do their own.

Risks of influenza

First question was, is influenza dangerous? To the stats! Usually a flu will cure itself in a couple of weeks, but influenza apparently can lead to hospitalisation and death, due to the aggravating of some symptoms. Statistics about the number of deaths are controversial. Many are estimates and apparently it’s quite hard to connect some deaths from respiratory complications to influenza. Some numbers talk of 500 000 deaths worldwide yearly. I found figures of 56 000 deaths in the US yearly, as well as this article putting these numbers in perspective (long but very interesting post).
The most vulnerable categories to flu are pregnant women, people over 65 years of age, and small children (under 5). These people have a higher chance to suffer from stronger symptoms and complications. Note that the vaccine is not available for babies under 6 months, while it’s considered safe for pregnant women.

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Benefits of the vaccine

The flu vaccine is much less effective of other vaccines. It reduces but not eliminates chances of getting the flu. Apparently it protects around 60% of people receiving it, with record lows of 10% only.  Influenza viruses are very complicated and mutate extremely quickly. This is the reason why the vaccine is only seasonal and doesn’t provide protection for all versions of the virus.

Trivia

For years I had the impression that the shot was actually giving me the flu. Apparently this is not true, but for a couple of weeks your immune system is down and if you are exposed to a virus, you’ll most likely catch it.

So, what is my personal conclusion? We decided not to give our kids the shot this year. They are both healthy and our youngest is 2,5 years old. The coverage percentage along with the highly likelihood of virus mutation made me skeptic on the true efficacy of the vaccination. I hope I provided you with enough basic facts to make your own decision. Do you feel I forgot something important? Drop me a line in the comments below. I wish you a healthy winter season!

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