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Flu Shot Fears?

    Now that we are experiencing a particularly bad flu epidemic this year, it is important to review the reasons that flu vaccines are so helpful and try to debunk some common reasons that people decide against it.  I have to admit that even several months ago, I had gotten a little lenient about persuading parents to get the flu vaccines for their kids if they simply commented "No, we're going to skip the flu shot this year."  Since technically it is optional, I wasn't pushing the issue very aggressively and I am now truly sorry for that.  I guess we all had gotten a little relaxed after not having a devastating flu season in a few years.  How quickly we forget!!  Now that we have lived through the past 2 months, I am now more likely to question "Why?" if I get the "no" answer to try to help educate the family or answer questions or concerns.  Parents can still ultimately refuse the flu vaccine, but knowing the statistics now, that decision becomes even tougher to justify.  Keep in mind that the pediatric "death count" for this year's epidemic is now at 84 nationwide and a great majority of those kids had not gotten their flu shots.

Myth #1:  "It's not the right strain anyway, so why bother."
Each year, the flu vaccine contains at least 3 strains of flu, but OUR office purchases quadrivalent flu vaccines which contain 4 strains.  Flu viruses contain combinations of H's and N's (remember swine flu was H1N1 and this year's nasty Type A strain is H3N2).  If you get a flu vaccine each year at our office, you get at least 4 H's and 4 N's added to your immune memory so that whatever strain is out there the next time, you have more chances to have advanced warning of their components.  That effect sticks with you for YEARS.  Yes, there are hundreds of strains of flu and that's a lot of combinations of components, but over time it improves your chances of NOT DYING from the flu if you get it.  You CAN still get sick with flu despite having the flu vaccine, but it is usually much less horrible and you are much LESS LIKELY to end up in the ICU or worse.

Myth #2:  "It gives you the flu." or "It makes you sick."
ANY vaccine can cause some fever as your body reacts to the "invasion" of proteins, but the flu vaccine is a killed virus which is all ground up into worthless pieces that are not organized virus structures anymore.  We become immune to the bits and pieces which our immune system recognizes if it ever sees them again in a real, intact flu virus and BINGO!  Alarms go off, the immune memory kicks in, and in no time at all, we are cranking out specific antibodies to those H's and N's that match up to the flu virus threatening us.  Many years ago when flu vaccines were first developed, the techniques they used to grind up and kill the flu virus before putting it into the vaccine, while "state of the art" at the time, did not grind them up well enough and it WAS possible that some of the viruses got processed intact.  This DID make people sick back then and was NOT good for public relations.  Even now, people still remember that, and they should!  It's important to learn from mistakes and continue to perfect the process. 
Here's another thing to consider:  Last week we had a little guy show up so he could get his flu shot.  As my nurse checked him in, she noticed he had a fever and looked like he wasn't feeling that great, but he had been fine until just that morning before they came to the office.  I looked him over and we did a flu test....which was POSITIVE!!  I felt bad that he had gotten sick before he could get the vaccine, but I was so thankful that his symptoms came that morning instead of that afternoon, because if he had gotten that flu shot that morning, it would have been tempting to blame his flu on the shot!  It would have been a TERRIBLE coincidence and might have forever convinced that family and all their friends that yes, the flu shot causes the flu after all, which we know it cannot.

Myth #3:  "I can't get the flu shot because I'm allergic to eggs."
The viruses that are grown to produce the flu vaccine USED TO be grown in egg white material, so it was possible for some of that egg substance to be in the vaccines.  Flu vaccines used to NOT be recommended for egg allergic people.  The techniques for growing the viruses nowadays are much improved and although the substrate is similar to that egg white material, the chances of any egg particle getting into the vaccine is very very minimal.  As of the 2016-17 flu vaccine, the CDC recommendation was officially changed to allow egg allergic people to now GET the flu vaccine.  If a person has an extreme life threatening reaction to egg exposure, they recommend that that person get the vaccine in a doctor's office equipped for that type of emergency just in case it happens, but the risk is very small.  We are prepared in our office to handle this type of emergency in the rare instance that it might happen.

Myth #4:  "My child has a runny nose, so he can't get a flu shot."
The part of our immune system that gets immunity from vaccines is different from the part that fights current illnesses.  Kids frequently will have runny noses or even an ear infection and they are perfectly capable of mounting an immune response to a vaccine.  We do sometimes postpone the vaccine just to take it easy on the kid, but vaccines are not contraindicated unless the child has a fever over 102 or has been vomiting.  Most of our providers will agree to postpone a vaccine if a child is sick but we can often do it at the time of the ear recheck or in just a week or so when the child is feeling better.  Just DON"T FORGET to swing them by for a nurse visit for the vaccine when they are feeling better.

    So let's pray that this nasty flu epidemic will be over soon and that our kids and friends and neighbors all survive intact and healthy once again.  And let us not forget what we learned from this year's epidemic:  WE CAN'T LET OUR GUARD DOWN WHEN IT COMES TO FLU.  Those yearly vaccines WILL add up and help protect us for years to come, but only if they are put into our bodies!

For more "Flu Vaccine Myths Debunked", check out the PBS.ORG website.

Ramona Peck, MD, FAAP

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NB Pediatrics not only offers our children quality medical care and personalized attention to meet our children's needs, but they also provide parent education that extends beyond the office and helps in our homes.
L. Wuest, New Braunfels, TX