'No Flu Shots for My Kids'

FRIDAY Oct. 9, 2009 -- Margaret Park, a mother of five, isn't having her kids vaccinated against seasonal influenza or H1N1 swine flu this year.

Park, a registered dietitian from Manassas Park, Va., is fighting the flu on her own terms -- by making sure that her children eat well, wash their hands frequently, get plenty of sleep and take their "gummies," a multivitamin and a supplement containing vitamin C, zinc and echinacea.

Although public health officials recommend seasonal flu vaccines even for healthy kids, Park doesn't see how her clan, aged 3 to 11, would benefit.

"I'm not convinced that getting it is going to keep you from getting the flu," the 35-year-old explained, noting flu shots don't protect against every possible strain of influenza.

She's particularly leery of the H1N1 vaccine, which manufacturers began shipping this week. "I just think that's being totally rushed," she said.

Park isn't the only skeptic.

Jo-Lynne, 37, a Philadelphia-area mother of three who preferred not to give her last name, has never had a flu shot and doesn't intend to have her two girls get either a seasonal or H1N1 vaccine. She thinks kids get too many vaccines, and like Park, she is choosing to take preventive measures instead.

But she also has a son with asthma who gets a flu shot every year. She plans to abide by his allergist's advice on whether he should have the H1N1 vaccine, too.

In reviewing blog postings on the topic, HealthDay observed wide divisions -- pro and con -- on whether to vaccinate children against the flu.

Some of the main reasons cited included the notion that kids have strong immune systems, so getting the flu would simply bolster them against that strain in the future. Others believed that uptake of the vaccine was in the pharmaceutical manufacturers' -- but not their children's -- best interest. And other parents reasoned that they had never had, or felt they needed, the flu shot, so why should their kids get it?

Research by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases suggests that many American mothers don't believe it's important to consistently vaccinate their children against the seasonal flu.

That may help explain lagging vaccination rates in the pediatric population.

For the 2008-09 flu season, only 12 percent of 5-to 10-year-olds, 12.7 percent of 11- to 12-year-olds and 9.1 percent of 13- to 18-year-olds were fully vaccinated, according to an analysis by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccination rates were somewhat higher for children aged 6 months to 23 months (28.9 percent) and 2 to 4 years (21.8 percent).

Parents are also divided over the H1N1 swine flu vaccine. Only 40 percent plan to have their children vaccinated, according to a poll by C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich. In an Associated Press poll, 38 percent of parents said they were unlikely to allow their kids to get the vaccination at school.

Beginning with the 2008-09 flu season, the CDC began recommending seasonal flu vaccine for all children 6 months to 18 years of age, not just those at high risk of flu complications because of chronic health conditions or compromised immune systems. It also recommends the H1N1 vaccine for infants, children and young adults, from 6 months old to 24 years old.

Dr. Lawrence B. Palevsky, a pediatrician with the Northport (N.Y.) Wellness Center and president and co-founder of the Holistic Pediatric Association, said he understands parental concerns.

"The dogmatic view that vaccines are safe and effective is being met with a considerable amount of attention, which is warranted and needed," he said.

Yet government officials and infectious disease experts warn that the flu can make children very sick, cause them to miss school and possibly lead to hospitalization and death.

On average, 100 children die from seasonal flu each year, noted Dr. Carol J. Baker, a professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. In 2003-04, a "particularly bad" flu season, 153 children died, and half of them were healthy, she added. Plus, there's real concern about the consequences of H1N1, which has already claimed nearly 50 children, said Baker, who also chairs the Childhood Influenza Immunization Coalition.

"If that was your kid, and you could have prevented it, how would you feel?" she asked.

There are public health implications as well.

"Children represent the greatest transmitters of influenza, and so preventing them from becoming infected not only would provide benefit to the individual child but also has the greatest potential to have benefit for the population as a whole," said Dr. Michael T. Brady, physician-in-chief of infectious diseases at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Infectious Diseases.

Mothers are generally the ones that make medical-care decisions for their families, Baker added, so it's important to get them the facts.

"There's a lot of bad information out there, and it makes people worry," she said.

More information

The Childhood Influenza Immunization Coalition provides 10 Reasons to Get Vaccinated.

The National Vaccine Information Center offers flu prevention tips.

Posted: October 2009


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