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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On the H1N1 Virus: To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate … That is the Question

Written by Amy, a mom without a blog

The Swine Flu, or using the politically correct term, the H1N1 Virus just hit my kids’ school for the first time. I think the student is going to be OK, but he had a definite near-death struggle and is now home recovering. He had a fever of 105, trouble breathing, and couldn’t talk. It attacked his throat. The whole family has been quarantined for over a week and they still have not returned to school - even the younger sister who is in my son’s kindergarten class (and didn’t even get the virus), has been out of school for over a week in order to keep others safe from exposure. He is looking at a two-month recovery time.

Everyone is panicking. Honestly, I am too.

I grapple with the question of whether or not to vaccinate my children for this virus.

I am generally a person who goes along with all the regular vaccines, but don’t always feel comfortable doing so. I do them, but under duress. I also do them because I don’t feel as if I’m educated enough to be bold enough to choose NOT to do them. And after my son got terribly sick from a flu shot one season, I have lived by the principal that if the vaccine is optional, we’re not doing it. Hence, that’s where I currently sit with the H1N1 vaccine. It’s optional. No thanks.

I was having this discussion with a friend of mine who is leaning toward vaccinating her kids for this newest virus. She said, “It’s the herd mentality.” Immediately, I thought, “Oh yeah, everyone is panicking, everyone is rushing to the doctor to get the vaccine. We are the herd. We do what everyone else does.” Right?

She was quick to disagree. The “Herd Mentality” she was referring to was that since “most of the herd” vaccinate for various illnesses, it keeps those who don’t vaccinate safe. In other words, I should feel obligated to thank all those who do opt for the vaccine, since it’s likely we will not be getting vaccinated for H1N1. I never really thought of it that way. But I think she’s right.

So … for those of you who have been or will be vaccinated in the near future for the H1N1 Virus. Thank you. I guess.

I also know there’s a choice about receiving the live virus via a nasal mist or the “weakened live” or dead virus via vaccine. I read that a person vaccinated with the live virus may be contagious to people with a compromised immune system for up to six weeks post vaccine.

I have Multiple Sclerosis.

I am one of those with a compromised immune system. So come to think of it, if you are one of those who is getting or has gotten the live virus as your protection against the H1N1 Virus, maybe I shouldn’t thank you at all. Maybe YOU are putting ME at risk by getting the vaccine.

Basically, I conclude that there is risk by doing something; and there is risk by doing nothing.

I am very confused. I am very scared.

All of this conflicting information is making my head hurt. I think I need to go gargle with warm salt water and wash my hands.


  1. i tend to agree with your friend about childhood vaccinations, in general. we are a lucky nation to basically have the luxury to choose.

    vaccinations have eradicated some of the deadliest diseases that our generation never had to face. think about if everyone before us chose not to vaccinate, we would still be dealing with small pox and the likes. in fact, if i am correct, there are kids in other countries still dying of diseases that we never give a second thought to. i bet we'd be singing a different tune if we were in that position.

    i swear i am turning into a stern grandma. somebody help me.

    now, onto the issue of the swine flu... i don't know if it is different in different regions, but it is EVERYWHERE here. it first hit this summer, and then kind of went away, and now it is back, but not a huge deal. a few of my kids' friends have it, but their siblings aren't quarantined and life is pretty much normal. it is actually making me a little complacent. however, my kids are definitely getting the vaccine. my oldest has a respiratory illness (as i think you already may know) and it is just too much of a risk to take a pass.

    and i do have one final thought about the safety of the vaccine. the reason the REGULAR flu shot doesn't come out until fall is they wait as long as they can to identify and include as many strains as possible in the vaccine. the REGULAR flu vaccine is thrown together rather quickly, as well. it isn't the same, year to year. so, while there are risks, i honestly don't feel they are any greater with the h1n1 shot as they are with the regular flu shot.

    please excuse me while i go knit a sweater and sip on my Ensure.

  2. oh for crying out loud... and apparently i have alzheimer's, too. what i was going to say, before i rudely interrupted myself, was that in YOUR particular situation, maybe it would be too risky for your health. they say it is the teens that are getting the brunt of it, and since you have little ones, maybe you really shouldn't risk it.

    okay, i am done now.

  3. Wow Amy - this is tough one - with no easy answer. Because the H1N1 vaccine is new, I have had some nervousness about it - but the benefits seem to outweigh the risks in our family because of Penni. She is one of the few in Utah (kids under 4) who were able to get the shot version this past week. She can't get the flu mist because of respiratory issues.

    The risk group for H1N1 is different from regular flu - which in and of itself is strange. Regular flu shots are first given to the elderly and people with varying health concerns. H1N1 is the opposite and is being given to the young first - no one in Utah can get the shot yet (except if you are under 4) - and the flu mist version is only available for young people up to age 24. Health care professionals and care givers of babies under 6 months can also get the flu mist. But only those under age 49.

    So my kids have all had the H1N1 vaccine, my husband as a 45 year old nurse has had it, but I can't get it yet. Neither can teachers. Neither can people 50 and over. Weird. How do they come up with this?

    That said. Utah has run out. Of Everything. Even the regular flu shot. Everyone is saying... first or second week of November... I don't want to be fearful, but it is clear people are ready for the flu vaccines like never before, especially parents of children & teens.

    I think it's worth it for you and your family when the shot form comes out, Amy, but that is just my two cents. Like I said, it is not an easy answer. But that way you have a little more control over the protection of your family rather than hoping others around you are protected.

  4. Deb - you crack me up. But I trust your opinion completely.

    Amy - totally damned if you do, damned if you don't. We "luckily" have already been hit - Oldest had H1N1 three weeks ago. I was still debating whether or not to get the shot (he's borderline asthmatic) before he got hit, thankfully bounced back fine. My Youngest never got sick, even though he was exposed a number of times. Knock on wood, maybe he alraady has some immunity and we will be unphased.

    I hate, hate, hate vaccines, but my kids are up to date because I hate the thought of losing one child way more. (Youngest on a delayed schedule.) I honestly feel it's my civic duty to do so. I am so very thankful for the parents who do vaccinate, yet I am totally cool with the parents who make an educated decision to delay or go without.

    Key to that though is "educated," not just too damn lazy.

  5. pass the antibacterial wipes. pronto.

  6. Have you talked to your doctor about the ups/downs? I'm pregnant, and got the vaccine as soon as it was available. I actually made an extra appointment and took time off work to get it.

    Here's the thing --- regular healthy people can die from this flu. Die as in dead. Over 40 people have died here in AZ from it so far. Also, the virus is airborne; handwashing, etc., is of only minimal value in halting its spread.

    I've gotten sick from regular flu shots too, but more like a couple days of feeling crappy, versus full out flu. As far as I know, there's no chance of dying from the vaccine --- certainly far far far less than dying from the flu itself.

    The H1N1 vaccine is new, but so is the flu vaccine every year. The method they used to develop it is the same method they use to isolate the regular flu and make the vaccine, every year.

    Especially with an immuno-compromising condition like MS, I really think you'd be doing yourself a favor to at least ask your doctor to go over the pros and cons with you.

    And yeah, I do also think it's a civic responsibility. But mostly, do it for yourself.

  7. For the first time ever, all three of my kids will be getting a flu shot - H1N1 only, not the seasonal flu shot. This is a change from our original decision but I am totally comfortable with this final decision. Our area has been hit hard - the schools are running at about a 22% absence rate. All three of my kids will be getting their vaccines at a flu clinic being conducted in the schools, during the school day, by the county health department.

    In the end, you have to do what is best for your situation.

  8. Okay, under the influence lives in a smart school district; why aren't all schools offering the vaccine?

    On MWOB, I always have to read a post and think about it for awhile. That either tells you how slow I am or what a deep thinker I am. baha...Anywho...I've been thinking about you and the H1N1 vaccine issue. I've been very complacent, thinking 'Oh, I don't need to worry about it; we don't fit into any risk category'. I had to stop myself and think about those who ARE at risk. Which doesn't help you at all; just reinforces my thought process.

    This is the lamest comment ever. I do not mean to make light of your situation AT ALL. Our state keeps telling us there isn't enough vaccine to go around yet. My daughter is a nurse and the hospital is vaccinating on a priority list...the workers considered the highest risk of being infected are receiving the vaccine first. Why do we have a shortage and other states do not?

    Oh, I am just rambling too much. My heart goes out to you.

  9. I'm pulling out my cane and joining the "Grandma" team with Deb.

    I'm an absolute believer in vaccines. Despite their bad rep in recent years we are all likely here because of them. Really.

    But I do get your concerns, Ames. This H1N1 bug is a nasty one and people are scared. It is full blown here (in my clinic we easily swab 5 or 6 kids a day for flu). And while we don't type those all out to "H1N1", they likely are. It's also rampant in the schools as well.

    It's scary when you hear about a child like the one you describe in your post. While that is certainly possible, most kids/young adults who are having serious complications have some kind of underlying health condition. The vast majority of healthy people are recuperating just fine.

    Listen, no one can tell you what to do. You and your husband need to make the decision that is right for your family. If your fear resides solely in the safety of the H1N1 vaccine, I say immunize. It is produced just like the annual flu shot.

    With MS, it's important that all the people in your house are immunized to protect you, especially. Go with the inactivated virus (injection) instead of the live nasal spray.

    Good luck... I'll be thinking of you. :-)

  10. maybe we should host an H1N1 giveaway on MWOB. i bet our numbers would go through the roof.

  11. I don't know what to do with the vaccine either. It isn't here yet so I guess I have time to worry about it. I don't usually do flu vaccines because my kids hardly ever get sick. But it would be just like them to catch the swine and have to stay in my house for TEN DAYS.

  12. My daughter has juvenile myositis, an autoimmune disease, and her doc said, yes -- definitely get it for her and the rest of the family. Good enough for me. And as Kath said, families with medical conditions are usually better with the dead virus used in the injections rather than the live one in nasal spray. Live virus vaccines, such as the nasal spray ones, can actually cause the disease in people with compromised immune systems, the docs have always told us.

  13. I have to say that these comments have been so thoughtful and helpful. I have learned a lot reading them and I hope they're helping you too Ames.

    I have to be honest that I have not given this much thoughts. My kids rarely get the flu shot and I'm not sure why. The doc doesn't push it, I don't push it and then it doesn't get done. But this discussion is inspiring me to call my doctor and ask about it. If she suggests it for my kids, we will do it. I like what Kath, Deb and Pearatty said about how the flu shot is developed each year anyway so it's not like the H1N1 was thrown together haphazardly or anything. Part of the process it seems...

    Anyway - thanks for getting this conversation going and I'll be interested to see if other thoughts and opinions weigh in...

  14. Around these parts, they offered the vaccines at a clinic that was COMPLETELY swamped with takers, so much so that there is none left as of this writing. To get a vaccine, under these conditions at this time, we'd have to pull the kids from school for MOST of the day and stand in a VERY long line. But I imagine we'll do it once more becomes available. with four kids in three different schools, the chances of this thing hitting home are quite high . . .

  15. Kath:
    Since you mentioned it, do you know what they mean when they say the person who got complications had "an underlying health condition"? I've been wondering this for a while.

    I mean, the news makes it sounds like the person had AIDS or something, but it's really a pretty vague term. It could just as easily mean mild asthma or something else fairly common. I kind of feel like they're saying it to forestall panic, but it's leaving everyone with the sense that you're not at risk unless you have a seriously compromised immune system.

  16. Pearatty,

    Great question. "Underlying health condition" can mean a variety of disorders, but usually something that leaves a person more vulnerable to certain infections. This could be being immunosuppressed (due to cancer therapy or auto-immune disorders) or having health conditions such as asthma, immature lungs, kidney name it.

    I don't think the news is trying to "forestall panic" (although the news can certainly distort the facts!). But it is true, that people who have health conditions that either put them more at risk of contracting the illness or dealing with the illness are definitely more at risk.

    Hope this was helpfull...

  17. Hi Amy,
    Well, it's a tough decision, you are right. In my opinion the media fans the hysteria. It can be a deadly illness, but my gut is telling me not to vaccinate my children. If I am wrong and one of them gets seriously ill, I invite each and every one of you reading this to come over my house and give me a swift kick in the ... because I'll be that mad at myself.

  18. Acknowledging the public skepticism about the upcoming H1N1 vaccination campaign, Canada’s obstetricians and gynecologists are mounting an information blitz aimed at pregnant women. Posters and fact sheets are being sent to hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices. Physicians are being told to provide advance prescriptions to pregnant women for the antiviral drug Tamiflu that could be filled at the first sign of H1N1 symptoms.

  19. Hi Amy, You are right when you say that you are at risk if you do something and also at risk if you do nothing...The greater risk, in my opinion, is if you do nothing. TALK to your doctor...find out what is right for you. The inhaled vaccine is an attenuated virus...the virility is knocked out of the virus during replication in the manufacturing process. There are still small amounts of live virus in the inhaled vaccine but in a small enough quantity that your nasal mucosa (which is loaded with infection fighting white blood cells) can kill them all and allow your body to develop immunity. The injectable vaccine is a killed virus. Killed virus does not replicate in your body=can't get H1 from it. People have reactions to vaccines because of the other components in the vaccine - not the virus in the vaccine. Don't rely on others getting the vaccine to keep you safe (what you referred to as "herd mentality", I think you were thinking of "herd immunity"). People can carry the virus and have no symptoms but they can still be contagious. The only way to protect yourself is with a vaccine and scrupulous hand washing (it really does work).

    Dave, (Karen's husban, Penni's Dad, and pediatric RN)

  20. Has anyone had their child vaccinated for H1N1 yet? We're going for the shot tomorrow and I'm curious to know how bad it's going to be, we've heard lots of rumors about strong reactions to it.

    Thank you!

  21. Where I live people have recieved the H1N1 vaccine, unfortunately as a health care worker and two children under the age three and one ten who is asthmatic...we havent recieved the vaccine yet. We were due to go to the clinic in a few days to recieve it and unfortunately they are saying it is not avaliable at the present time as they are out and waiting for more, which could take up to a few weeks. I paniced, not for myself, but for my children. i couldnt imagine anything happening to them, as any parent would feel. Reading through all these posts has eased my mind. I feel that if we do end up getting it...which is highly possible, and who knows maybe we have had a case of it and just didnt know because we were'nt tested. I dont feel like we cant make it through the h1N1 if we end up getting it. After all the media with only televising the deaths that happen caused by the H1n1... no wonder everyone panics... making it seem like if you get it you are going to die! I truely am contented now knowing that more than likely chances of getting hit by lightning are higher!

  22. i ama mother of three children - 8,5,3. I read up on this vaccination and im really confussed whether or n ot to get it. the gbs is a side affect to the vaccination.

  23. People really need to research more before making this decision. I have researched for 8 years on why vaccinations are unsafe. My passion for the truth began after My nephew was diagnosed with autism. He changed drastically after age 2 when he received the MMR vaccination. My father and mother received nerve damage after a flu and pneumonia shot and my friend who is an R.N. also has seen nerve damage in 3 colleagues within a week of getting H1N1 shot. Here are some of the ingredients in a vaccine. They are not safe at any level, especially when injected into the bloodstream

    Formaldehyde, thimerasol, aluminum, mercury, etc...

    There is a ton of info at your fingertips back by neurosurgeons and Dr.s with PhDs. Dont be afraid to research. Be afraid not to have knowledge.

    Most people dont even know what is in the vaccines, yet they line up for them. Do you read food labels? Well......

    The vaccine developers make $26 per vaccine. If you don't think money is behind this you need to research some more. I have enough research to safely conclude that vaccinations are not safe. None of them. Please do yourself and your family a favour and get educated!


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