Just as we enter another flu season, another voice has been raised on the question of vaccine safety.
Writing in the U.S. News and World Report, health journalist Deborah Kotz, who describes herself as "very much pro-vaccines," confesses that she will not be giving her children the flu vaccine this year. "After interviewing about two dozen experts for a feature I'm writing on vaccines," she says, "I've come to question the wisdom of the new government recommendation that all children be vaccinated against the flu."
Many of us already have heard that flu vaccines may not target the virus strains that show up in a given season, and know there's no guarantee that you won't catch the flu even if you've gotten a shot for the exact strain you encounter. The vaccine is considered to be 75 percent effective at preventing the strain of the flu it targets -- meaning that there's still a one in four chance that you'll catch the virus. In fact, several of the 83 children who died from the flu last year had been vaccinated against it.
There's also the problem of thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that some fear may trigger autism, which is still used in the standard flu vaccine (you have to specifically request a thimerosal-free version, which may or may not be available). And then there are the very real risks, downplayed by public health officials: anaphylactic shock from an allergy to the vaccine, or total paralysis from Guillain-Barre syndrome, which has been linked to the vaccine. As Kotz points out, a child's individual risk of dying from the flu is one in a million -- the same as the risk of suffering a life-threatening allergic reaction or paralysis from the flu shot.
Given the risks on both sides of the question, the flu shot for children should be a personal decision, not something mandated by state governments. Did your children get flu shots this year? We'd like to know!