It’s officially fall moms! Beautiful colors, warm sweaters, pumpkin lattes …and the flu. Yes, flu season is here and you know you are just waiting for your child to come home from preschool and share the gift with your entire family. Well it’s a good thing you can get a flu shot on virtually every street corner. But does it work and is it safe?
What is it?
There are two types of flu vaccines. The first is a flu shot, where an inactivated killed off version of the flu virus is injected. The second is a weakened but not completely killed off version called Flu-Mist that is sprayed into your nose. The idea is that when the inactivated or weakened virus enters your immune system, your body starts producing anti-flu protective agents. This way, when your body comes in contact with the flu again, it will recognize the virus and be able to fight it off quickly without making you sick.
Each year scientist try to predict which three strains of the flu will be most prevalent during the upcoming flu season. They then formulate vaccines to protect against those strains.
What is recommended?
Right now, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends “that everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine each year.” They also specifically state that pregnant women, children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old should get the vaccine.
What’s the big deal?
All the controversy surrounding vaccines, the flu vaccine included, is causing a lot of confusion among parents. The reason for concern is thimerosal, a form of mercury used as a preservative in the flu vaccine.
Thimerosal is used as an anti-bacterial agent in many different medications and has been used as a preservative in vaccines since around 1930. However, some scientist and parent advocate groups have long argued that there is a link between this preservative and autistic spectrum disorder.
In the late 90’s the U.S. Public Health Service and the American Academy of Pediatrics agreed that as a precautionary measure any vaccine for children should be thimerosal free. By 2003 thimerosal was taken out of all vaccines, except of course, the flu vaccine.
So why would it be taken out of every vaccine as a precautionary measure but then left in a flu vaccine that is recommended for almost every child? Good question…doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. According to Dr. Julia McMillan, professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “When we made the recommendation it was because we just didn’t have enough information about mercury. The FDA was reviewing it for use in dentistry, drugs and so forth. We decided since more children were getting more vaccines and being exposed to thimerosal at a rate we hadn’t considered before, it would be best to minimize the exposure as a precaution.”
Last time I check ingesting mercury was not a good thing, regardless of what kind of spin the FDA, CDC, or you name it puts on it. There are some arguments that methyl mercury is the problem not ethyl mercury which is used in thimerosal. Still, not sold. While it may be true that the jury is still out on the real links between vaccines and autism, the FDA would not have placed a ban on thimerosal if there weren’t some potential danger.
The argument goes deeper than just mercury. Here are 5 reasons from an article by Dr. Joseph Mercola.
Five Reasons to Reconsider Flu Shots For Your Child
1. The majority of flu shots contain 25 micrograms of mercury, an amount considered unsafe for anyone weighing less than 550 pounds! And which groups are most sensitive to the neurological damage that has been associated with mercury? Infants, children, and the elderly.
2. The above study published in the October issue of the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine found that vaccinating young children against the flu appeared to have no impact on flu-related doctor visits or hospitalizations during two recent flu seasons.
At first glance, the data did suggest that children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years derived some protection from the vaccine in these years. But after adjusting for potentially relevant variables, the researchers concluded that “significant influenza vaccine effectiveness could not be demonstrated for any season, age, or setting.”
3. The new policy ignores a large-scale, systematic review of 51 studies, published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2006, that found no evidence the flu vaccine is any more effective for children under 2 than a placebo. The studies involved 260,000 children, age 6 to 23 months.
4. If your child gets a flu shot, he can still get the flu (or flu-like symptoms). This is because it only protects against certain strains, and it’s anyone’s guess about which flu viruses will be in your area.
5. There are many studies supporting the hygiene hypothesis, which proposes that acquiring viral infections early in life is not a bad thing. It actually helps build your child’s immune system, drastically reducing the risk for heart disease, allergies, and asthma, as he grows older.
So with that being said, you may have a circumstance where it is absolutely necessary to protect against the flu. Maybe your child is at risk for other illnesses, or maybe you just know the daycare is ticking flu time bomb. You CAN find flu vaccines that are thimerosal free. Your pediatrician or local health department should be able to help you find a place that offers thimerosal free vaccines.
As always, question what your doctors tell you. Ask why. You are your child’s best advocate. Review the evidence and make your own informed decision. There are ways to help your child naturally prevent the flu such as, washing hands, eating less sugar, getting enough vitamin D, and making sure they get lots of sleep. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say you probably never had a flu shot growing up, and you survived the flu so maybe your child can too.