Today marks the last day of National Influenza Vaccination Week, and in keeping with my standard M.O., I've waited until the very last minute to talk about the influenza vaccine. (Luckily, this didn't extend to the vaccine--my kids were vaccinated in August and I got mine in early November).
Over at Shot of Prevention, Voices for Vaccines Parent Advisory Board member and leader of Nurses Who Vax, Melody Butler reminded readers what, exactly, is at stake when it comes to children and the flu. Last year, 169 children died from flu. "To put that number in perspective," Melody wrote, "that's more than six kindergarten classes."
Opponents of vaccination would quickly point out that those deaths likely represent children who had an underlying condition or were immune-deficient, that most healthy children can fight the flu. The brutality--and the astounding ignorance--of such a statement is likely self-evident, but let's unpack it anyway.
First, those children with underlying conditions or who were immunocompromised are the very reason we should vaccinate our healthy children. By cocooning these kids who are battling illnesses, like cancer, we can reduce the chances that they will contract the flu, which, for them, can be extremely serious.
Second, opponents of vaccination are caught in a double-bind--they aim to convince as many people as possible not to vaccinate their children, yet the health of their own unvaccinated children is utterly dependent on high vaccination rates.
But what about the canard that the flu vaccine doesn't work? Is it perfect? Of course not. The nature of the flu itself makes a universal vaccine an exceptionally complex proposition (though it may be on the way). But if you could reduce your child's chances of suffering--and believe me, dealing with influenza comes with a great deal of suffering, whether you're a child or an adult--by any percentage point, even one, wouldn't you do so? Apparently, in some circles, the answer is no. And I find that hard to wrap my mind around.
So here's my yearly plea: whether flu vaccine reduces your child's chance of getting the flu by 60% or 6%, it's worth the trip to the pediatrician's office, the local big box minute clinic, the local pharmacy, etc.
And a last note: in my house, vaccinations are mandatory--and my kids are getting old enough now to understand why. Yes, they don't want to get sick, but what fills me with pride is that they care even more about keeping their friends and family healthy as well. They understand how vaccines function in this regard. They are not old enough to fully understand why parents might not vaccinate their children (frankly, I'm not either), but they have been told that these unvaccinated children are in need of protection as well, that these peers of theirs are, in a sense, immunocompromised themselves. Choosing vaccination because you care about your own health, as well as the health of the community, is a lesson in compassion and community all children should learn.