Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Swine Flu Vaccine

Gird yourself, people, because the time has finally come to talk about the swine flu vaccine. Either you’re panicked about the flu or you’re panicked about the vaccine. Since I’ve tried panicking about both, I know it sucks to feel so worried and so clueless. Now, I’m no doctor – far from it – but I did a reasonable amount of research and I’ll just tell you what I think.

I’m getting both my kids vaccinated, if I can. I say if I can because my pediatrician doesn’t have the vaccine and its been a little dicey trying to find a place that is vaccinating the under-4 crowd, although they do seem to be the ones most at risk. But Primo will be getting it at school and I am trying to score an appointment somewhere for Seconda. I’ve spoken to my pediatrician, who is generally very flexible with vaccines and who I trust completely, as well as a pediatric infectious disease specialist at NY Presbyterian. Both of them, and everything I’ve read from credible sources, say the vaccine is safe. It is made in exactly the way the seasonal flu shot is always made, so there’s nothing “experimental” or “rushed” about it. There are no scary adjuvants in it. There is thimerosal in the injection version given in two doses to children (they do make thimerosal-free kind but its not easy to find) but as far as I can assess, that doesn't make it unsafe. It is probably pretty effective, as this flu strain hasn’t mutated much. And it is free.

I think skepticism is essential and we should be informed about our medical choices. I’m not saying we should take anyone at their word but the thing is, I’m not a doctor and the reason we HAVE doctors is that they’re experts. At a certain point, you have to take a leap of faith -- not blind faith but faith nonetheless. And doctors I trust assured me the risk of the vaccine was lower than the risk of my kids getting H1N1. Of course, I’m the daughter of a doctor, so I may be biased in their favor.

The other thing I think people tend to forget is that even if you’re not too worried about your kid getting swine flu – even if you feel like they’ll fare fine and the risk of it is low --- vaccinating our own kids will protect not only them but the community at large, which includes people who do stand to get seriously ill from H1N1 – pregnant women, the elderly, for starters. I’m not in favor of people making medical choices they aren’t comfortable with, but it is something to consider. Our choices in this regard will affect not just our families, but other families, too.

So here are a few links I found helpful:

Op-Ed piece in the NY Times by Paul Offit from October 11, 2009

Flu FAQs from NY Times Wellness Blog by Tara Parker-Pope

NYC DOH Flu Website

And if you've got some great insight or just an opinion to throw in, do. I think this is precisely the sort of subject where people benefit from hearing lots of different people express lot os fdifferent points of view.