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October 03, 2017

Your baby should get the flu shot and you should, too

The case for vaccination, even when expecting.

Vaccinations are a controversial topic in America. Some people believe that it is a doctor, parent and guardian’s duty to inoculate babies and children from preventable illnesses and diseases that only a generation ago claimed numerous lives in the United States.

Others believe that, at best, vaccinations are a racket created by the pharmaceutical industry in partnership with the government and, at worst, are a covered-up cause of autism and miscarriage.

I am in the former group of pro-vaccinators. I simply am not going to let something like whooping cough or measles kill my son.

So it should come as no surprise that I am a proponent of the annual seasonal influenza vaccination, more commonly known as the flu shot. At the recommendation of both of my obstetricians (I moved from Missouri to New Jersey in my second trimester), I received two preservative-free flu shots while I was expecting. The first was in February 2016 – shortly after I learned I was pregnant – to cover me for the remainder of the 2015/2016 flu season. The second was in August 2016 about six weeks before I gave birth to inoculate me from the upcoming season. My doctors explained that receiving the vaccination would help to prevent me from getting ill and would also help protect my baby once he was born and until he could receive his own shot. Even though my husband had never received one before, he got flu shots at the same time that I did. For us, it was a no-brainer: we were protecting our son and ourselves.

Now that Killian is turning one year old, he was able to receive his first flu shot. Any baby that is older than six months can receive it so I made sure my baby was inoculated in September a couple of weeks before his first birthday party, when our house will be filled with family and friends (and their germs). I am glad my son will have a layer of defense against what is predicted to be a terrible flu season. Hopefully we will all get through the winter without getting sick.

There are a couple of reasons why Killian just got his first influenza vaccination. For starters, it is recommended by his pediatrician and by the American Academy of Pediatrics. These are my trusted sources for guidance in the health, care and well-being of my baby boy. The second reason is why these experts recommend inoculation: the flu can be fatal, especially if your child has a chronic medical condition like asthma, diabetes, cardiac disease or neurologic disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 100 pediatric deaths occurred during the 2016/2017 flu season. Historically, about 80 percent of pediatric deaths from the flu have occurred in unvaccinated children.

Between 2010 and 2014 more than half of the children who died from the flu had an underlying medical condition that increased their risk of severe complications yet only one in three of these children had received the vaccination. Receiving the flu shot does not guarantee that your child will not contract the flu but, as the AAP says: “Vaccination remains the best available preventative measure against influenza.”

Babies and children are not the only people who should receive the flu shot. Pregnant women are at a higher risk for the flu and its complications. We mothers need to take care of ourselves, especially when we are carrying a child. The vaccination not only inoculates pregnant women but also protects their baby once born until he or she is six months old. There are varying opinions about whether or not the influenza vaccine can cause a miscarriage. The experts that I trust say that pregnant women can and should receive the flu shot at any time during pregnancy because substantial data shows it does not cause fetal harm. But the AAP also says that “data on the safety of influenza vaccination in the early first trimester are limited” and there are new studies being conducted to hopefully determine more concrete information. While it is recommended to receive the flu shot this year before the end of October to best protect yourself, you may also want to wait until you are in your second trimester. If you are pregnant, talk to your obstetrician about the benefits and risks.

The reasons I have listed in support of the flu shot also apply to why I believe all parents, guardians, teachers and caregivers should get it. At my husband’s and my request, everyone in our family who spends a lot of time with my son – including grandparents, aunts and uncle – are also getting the flu shot. Many of them do it every year anyway but they understand that protecting Killian is as important as protecting themselves. This is why teachers and health care providers, among others who are routinely exposed to the flu, are also encouraged to get the flu shot. It helps keep them from getting sick and helps to stop the illness from spreading.

I am sure there are readers in the anti-vaccine or delayed vaccinations camps who are growing increasingly angry about this column. I am just spouting off pro-vaccine propaganda, right? If you have read my posts before, you know that I firmly believe that every parent has the right to make the personal decisions that are best for their families. If you want to home school, public school, private school – go for it. If you want to breastfeed until kindergarten or give formula immediately after birth – to each their own. If you want to stay at home with your babies or return to work within a week of delivery – more power to you.

But protecting our children from illnesses that could be fatal is where I start to draw the line. It is our job as parents to ensure to the best of our abilities that our children are safe and healthy. To that end, I encourage you to get the flu shot (and all other vaccinations recommended by the CDC) for yourself and your children. It is ultimately your choice if you do not want it, but talk to your pediatrician and get second opinions from physicians before you abstain.

Did you get the flu shot while expecting? Do you make sure your children are inoculated against influenza each year? Or are you totally against this vaccination? Share your thoughts with me and other parents in the comments section below or Tweet me at @ThePhillyVoice and @KathleenEGagnon.

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