The flu is not to be messed with

The flu is not to be messed with

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I am going to out myself. I am a vaccination zealot. Everyone has an opinion about vaccinations, especially the flu shot. People will say they don’t “believe” in vaccinations. I think saying you don’t believe in the flu shot is like saying you don’t believe in gravity. Sure, you cannot see gravity, but you’re not floating off into space either are you? Just like gravity, flu vaccines are real, and they really work. I cannot help but get on my mama soapbox and roar my big mama lion ROAR about flu shots.

I get the impression parents, and the general population looks at the flu vaccine like a choice. A decision like whether you should enroll your kid in kindergarten or wait a year so they are not the youngest/smallest guy in the class. Vaccinations are not a personal lifestyle choice. It’s like saying, “Oh no thanks, we’re not signing up for polio this season. Tuberculosis is much more appropriate for Johnny’s development.” It doesn’t make sense!

There are many myths about the flu vaccine like it’ll give you the flu. Without needing to pull out my nerdy immunology knowledge (I majored in biology in college), it is scientifically IMPOSSIBLE to get the flu from the vaccine. What you may experience is FLU-LIKE SYMPTOMS because your body is doing exactly what it needs to do when being exposed to the vaccine; it’s creating an army of cells to fight the real flu should you come into contact with it. This is how vaccinations work. Your body is responding to the vaccine and this is what makes you feel temporarily and mildly icky for a few days (this is much different from coming down with the flu virus which knocks you on your butt for a week or longer).

I personally experienced drama around the flu shot right before my oldest daughter was born. She’s a December baby which is the height of flu season. Close to her birth, some family members refused to get the flu shot. I was irate and told them I would not allow them near my baby. Some family members eventually acquiesced and admitted the flu shot was no big deal. And when I pressed them to tell me why they refused the shot to begin with, their reasons were akin to not liking needles, not thinking they needed it, and stubbornly admitting they will not be told what to do. It’s true, I cannot tell anyone what to do (with the exception of my children, and in some cases my husband), but my extended family needs to travel hundreds of miles to Ohio to visit us, so if they wanted to come all this way just to stay in a hotel and only see photos of my baby instead of meeting her, it’s their prerogative. I cannot force anyone to do anything, but I can protect my child from the ignorance of others.

The CDC estimates from the 1976-1977 seasons to the 2006-2007 flu season, flu-associated deaths ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people. Any way you slice it, this means THOUSANDS of people die from a preventable illness every year. Yet, I know plenty of folks who look at the flu like a cold. I may be wrong, but I haven’t heard of cold epidemics killing babies and the elderly. People with compromised immune systems like little babies, especially babies too young to get the shot themselves (any baby 6 months old or younger) are at risk and it’s our responsibility as mamas to keep the germ-infested blockheads away from them. I can find a ton of websites from the CDC and AAP on the importance of flu shots etc., but some folks just don’t respond to the hard facts and data. Someone will always argue with proven science. So, anyone can decide to do what they want with their bodies and their children, but I do not need to bear witness. However, this becomes extra challenging when it burdens the general public and exposes our little ones to once forgotten illnesses like the whooping cough.

To me, contracting a life-threatening illness is just not worth it when there is a really simple fix. It amazes me to see how many people will try any fad diet to lose a few pounds and SWEAR it works (based on what?), only to gain all the weight back and then some. We’ll go to the point of starvation to lose a few pounds, but our general health is treated with less importance.

I should confess, I am a public health person and a really protective mom when it comes to this illness. Since the big showdown when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, I am happy to say more family members have been getting their shots yearly (to my knowledge). One member even said he doesn’t know why he made a big deal about it. But, this is not about my ego and being right, it’s about being safe and healthy. Newborn babies, little kids, and anyone with a compromised immune system (like the elderly) are too delicate to roll the dice on.

So what do you do if you are on board with the vaccine, but others are not? I can only control what I do, and since I am responsible for my children, I have a lot of influence here. I have no problem saying I know I am being really crazy about this – but I’m a mom and this is important to me. I am allowed to get crazy about this stuff. If someone does not respect my wishes, they need to understand my actions will be in direct response and I will not bring my children around them.

I know moms with young kids are busy. Running to the doctor unless your kid is sick is not a high priority. I recall a new mom telling me she didn’t get the flu shot for her 4 year old. She had just given birth to a beautiful baby girl and when I asked if her family had the flu shot to protect her newborn baby, she simply claimed her son “doesn’t get the flu” (like it’s a choice?). Well, within a few weeks I learned her son caught the flu, and baby girl then caught it from him. She ended up going to the doctor many times instead of going to get the shots at the start.

Even young 20-somethings at the proverbial height of health (working out daily and eating well), are not protected from catching the flu. One 20-something friend proudly admitted she doesn’t get the shot and was staunchly refusing to get the free shot offered to her. I was going on and on about how it’s a good thing and it was clear she just didn’t want to hear it. Then she got a bad case of the flu, was sick and out of work for over a week, she then got her boyfriend sick and they realized maybe the flu shot ain’t all that bad. Now they both get flu shots, but why does someone need to be proven wrong this way? It’s like jumping out of a plane and being told only some of the parachutes work, but others have giant holes in them. You’re not sure which pack has the torn parachutes, but it’s okay because you just don’t look like the kind of person who would get a ripped parachute. This is an extreme example, but we don’t need to see if we will “maybe” plummet to our deaths to know it’s better to be sure and ultimately save your life.

I describe myself as a pretty minimalist and relaxed parent , but when it comes to preventative health from a potentially life-threatening illness, it is clear cut. My kids are my top priority. Why take the chance?

You can get all the info you need to learn more about the flu facts here:
Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine

Children, the Flu, and the Flu Vaccine

Vaccination: Who Should Do It, Who Should Not and Who Should Take Precautions

About the author

Michelle Dickstein is a Midwest transplant from the East Coast with her husband. Michelle has her Masters of Public Health and works full-time outside of the home. Michelle writes about her adventures in life as the mother of three adorable and curly-headed young daughters, two of which are identical twins. In addition she writes for Northeast Ohio Parent magazine, blogs (Emailing with My Girlfriends and Kveller) and has made appearances on CBS 19 and Fox 8 news as a lifestyle and parenting "expert" (whatever that means)! Michelle is co-authoring a book, “We Do Not Negotiate with Terrorists: Parenting Just Got Real. Positive Parenting Strategies that Work.”

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