Friday, October 23, 2009

To vax or not to vax, that is the question!

If you've been paying attention to the media, H1N1 vaccines will be available shortly, and the Canadian government is suggesting that everyone between the ages of 6 months and 65 years should be vaccinated against this 'new' flu virus. The Ottawa Citizen has been dedicating pages of coverage to this issue for weeks, if not months, now, and despite all the information I've read, I'm still thoroughly confused.

To start, I'm really unsure about vaccinations in general. When I had my first baby, I vax'ed her on the schedule recommended by our ped., without giving it much thought (doctors know what's best for us, right?). At that time (almost 9 years ago), the chicken pox vaccine was relatively new, and as little as I knew about vaccinations in general, I knew that I wouldn't be signing up for that one. As far as I was concerned then (and now), chicken pox is a right of passage, an inconvenience at worst. I had it when I was a kid, and there was never a history of complications in my family, so no real need for concern.

When my second daughter was born, I started her on the same vaccination schedule, at one of her 'well baby' check-ups, we were seen by our ped's partner who assumed I was going to vax Hannah against chicken pox, I said no, and didn't she go up one side of me and down the other. I was backed into a corner in a little examination room while this doctor repeatedly told me I was a horrible mother, and that my child could die because of my decision not to vaccinate her against chicken pox. How did that appointment end? I'm sorry to say that against my better judgement, I had Hannah vax'ed against chicken pox, the doctor wore me down and I gave in. Since that experience, I've been loathe to take any doctor's advice 'because she knows best'. As a result, Owen and Grace have been given delayed selective vaccinations, though admittedly, I know as little now as I did back then, I just feel better waiting.

No members of our family have ever been given the flu vaccination, much like chicken pox, I think the flu is just one of those things you deal with, it's an inconvenience at worst. We have no underlying health issues, so again, no cause for concern. My mother, on the other hand, gets the flu shot every year, and wouldn't you know it, she's never managed to avoid the flu despite getting the 'magical' flu shot.

So now there's this H1N1 flu strain, and you'd think the sky was falling, judging by all of the media coverage it's been receiving. There are often (so far, unwarranted) parallels drawn between H1N1 and the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, which killed approximately 50 million people, most victims were young, previously healthy adults. The Canadian government has ordered $400,000,000 worth of vaccinations with the goal of vaccinating the majority of the population against this particular strain of flu, but a lot of people (myself included) are wondering if it's necessary.

I'm not about to roll up my sleeve just because I've been told to, and I would strongly encourage anyone else who's considering it to give pause for thought. So far, H1N1 has contributed to 86 deaths since the Spring, and evidence suggests the H1N1 death rate is similar to the seasonal flu death rate. Fact of the matter is, thousands of people die from seasonal flus every year, despite the fact that flu vaccinations are doled out annually. It would seem the 'science' behind flu vaccinations in general is flawed, it certainly isn't the silver bullet the medical community would have you believe it is.

There is very little known about H1N1. The government doesn't know how many people have already had it and recovered because the only people in Canada tested for the virus are people who have been admitted to the hospital with complications. What about people have have caught it and recovered already? The government doesn't know why some people are able to shake it off more easily than others. There is little known about the true cause of death of those who have succumbed to H1N1, postmortem results suggest that many of those casualties had existing underlying medical issues that may have been a contributing factor.

There is even less known about the effectiveness of the vaccination, which has not been evaluated by Health Canada, rather, they are relying on the results of a small (130 people, if you can believe it) clinical trial in Belgium (trials ran by the manufacturer, I might add). Adding to the unknown is the fact that for the first time ever, a flu vaccination is being paired with adjuvant, which boosts an immune system's response to a vaccine. Basically, it's a way the government can vaccinate more people with less medicine, however, there is uncertainty in terms of whether the adjuvanted vaccine is safe for pregnant women or babies, so there is a small amount of unadjuvanted vaccines available for those groups. So are we to *assume* the adjuvanted version is OK for us to take? Are we supposed to take it, wait, and hope for the best? Lastly, it is reasonable to expect some serious possible side effects, inevitably, some people will have a reaction to the H1N1 vaccination that will be far more severe than suffering through what will likely be a mild case of the flu for most people.

Again today, the Ottawa Citizen has published a lengthy article on why Canadians should not be suspicious of this new vaccine, as well as a testimonial from a doctor who will be vaccinating his own family (the basic tone of that piece was 'doctors know more than you, so you should just listen to us'). Of course, if you consider how the Ottawa Citizen has handled previous virus outbreaks, you'd be right to take what they say with a grain of salt. Remember their coverage of West Nile virus? Every time a dead crow was found, there would be double-page spread. How about the promised Avian flu pandemic? Did anything actually come of that? I would like to see media outlets like the Ottawa Citizen publish the view of doctors who oppose this mass vaccination, there are individuals within the medical profession who disagree with this course of action.

At this point, given the relatively low risk of the flu, the unknowns of the vaccine, and my gut feeling, it's highly unlikely that I'll be vaccinating myself or my children against H1N1. I think that common sense and good hygiene will be far more effective in preventing an outbreak, we've talked to the kids about the importance of hand-washing and coughing into their sleeves, and a recent bout with the flu saw our family staying at home (no work, no daycare or school) longer than normal. If you you have thoughts or links to share, please post them. I think the scariest thing about this decision is that little voice in the back of my head that wonders 'what if?'. I would hate to be wrong about this approach, putting my kids in harms' way. By the same token, I feel like blindly listening to what the media tells me I should do for myself and my family could have equally disturbing consequences.


  1. We won't be getting it -- various reasons, but essentially a) not enough is known about the vax & it's only had extremely limited testing, b) gov't has habit of deeming stuff "safe" for pregnant women and then backtracking when it's too late, c) there's evidence showing exposure can provide immunity, and d) we don't get the regular flu shot anyway. I'll take my chances and rely on my lack of a social life and my mad handwashing skillz to get me through.

    That said, I am still open to changing my mind if it appears to become more dangerous and widely spread.

    FWIW, though, if Health Canada can't be bothered enough to test everyone suspected of carrying H1N1 to get accurate #s for severity and spread (they only test people who are hospitalized), why should I take them seriously when they're telling me to get the vaccine?

    Also? It irritates me that pregnant women are given the choice between taking the adjuvanted vax w/ 5ug of thimerosal, or the unadjuvanted w/ 50ug. Talk about a decision between a rock and a hard place.. (And, yes, I know thimerosal is metabolised differently than the "bad" mercury in fish, but it doesn't change the fact that it's a neurotoxin, you know?)

  2. I've debated this a long time too. I get a lot of pressure from work to get both the regular flu shot and now the H1N1 shot (I'm a health care professional). That said, I usually pass on the flu shot - I don't believe I've ever had the flu as an adult and trust my immune system to deal with it if I do get it. I won't be getting the shot for my daughter either.

    So, given that experts are saying that H1N1 is just as mild as the regular flu, I've decided not to get that shot for me or my little one either. My only concern is that they say H1N1 can be worse for little kids than the regular flu is, so I worry about my daughter, just not enough to give her what I feel is an unneccessary, and potentially unsafe, vaccine.

    As an aside - my daughter is getting the regular schedule of childhood vaccines, but we will not be doing the chicken pox one. New evidence is showing that the immunity is temporary and often results in getting chicken pox as a teen, and getting it much worse than one would as a young child. Have you considered a complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons re: the doc how bullied you into giving the vaccine to your child? The doctor's behaviour was wrong on so many levels! I hope you now have a doc you can trust.

  3. I'm actually still on the fence about this one. I do know though that if everyone were to go for it then the strain would likely die, however a new one would also likely take it's place right? And by not going for it, you risk the possiblity of getting it and dealing with the consequences. Since we don't normally get the regular flu shot, I'm leaning towards not getting the h1n1 either. As Melissa mentioned, handwashing skills are important so that'll be our first line of defence. Another line of defence would be to boost immune system. Vitamin C, garlic, Vitamin E, Omeges... those are all great immunity boosters.

    Just some thoughts....

    If you'd like more opinions, hop on over to The Extraordinary Baby Shoppe's Facebook page. There's some interesting reading there!!!

  4. Glad you decided to blog about this! Isn’t it the topic of discussion! Vaccinations can be such a touchy subject, 2 of my closest friends are dead against every and all vaccines and one is convinced all that’s wrong with every child comes back the vaccines!

    I was not immune to rubella in my first pregnancy, and was sooo scared for my unborn child. This was shortly after an outbreak among a non-immunising community in Niagara region.

    Regarding vaccinating in general - my old M.D. was a friend, and never gave my daughter more than one vaccine at a time. He also was great for spacing them out more. My new M.D. – love her, but I had to fight to space them out and give one at a time. No chicken pox, HPV and we don’t do the flu shot. Regarding H1N1, however, I am high risk with severe asthma; oddly my respirologist has never even mentioned the flu shot. I did however have the flu shot only once – and ended up with the flu within a week of that shot which was my only flu as an adult! And the kids are 8 mths and 2.5 which I understand is also high risk.

    Many of the original illnesses we vaccinate against can have dreadful outcomes at a higher rate than the possible dreadful outcome of adverse effects from a vaccine – I understand this, makes sense to vaccinate at a lower risk I suppose. It is also a “for the greater good” of a society thing – okay I understand this too. I try to remember how awful I felt knowing my unborn child was at such a risk concerning rubella, and recall so well the complacency of the friend who did not vaccinate – her child could infect me, and my child – so scary. But that said, I just can’t seem to get up the nerve to get the H1N1, chicken pox, or for that matter the HPV vaccine either! They just can't seem to measure the negitive of the H1N1 vaccine enough in such a short time. By the time it is available too, flu season will be well under way!

    We will make some sacrifices this flu season - I have decided that for this year, we will go to less playgroups and I am going to avoid when possible taking my kiddies shopping thus avoiding public washrooms, grocery carts, heavily populated areas and the such. We are not big on anti bacterial anything – but will have some on hand for emergency situations. Maybe this year society will do a bit better of job at staying home if they are feeling sick! And for the record I am petrified that we have made the wrong decision to not vaccinate against H1N1 (my hubby thinks it's all hype and said NO WAY from the start)! Looking forward to reading what others have to say on this subject!

  5. I have very similar thoughts to those of you that have commented. I've always been in the "no" camp on the flu shots, but this year it's different. My daughter took her vaccines on the regular schedule (again - doesn't the medical community know best?... I used to think so). My son, however, has been on a delayed schedule. No more than one shot at a time. I have small kids. I'm not keen on putting more into their bodies than is necessary to keep them healthy. My kids did get the chicken pox vax. My view on that one is not objective as I had the chicken pox at 3 months pregnant.... I did lots of research on the chicken pox and didn't want my kids to go through it as a "rite of passage". (Of course now there's talk of it not being as effective as first thought...)

    On the other side of the H1N1 argument, though, is the fact that there should be a 70% immunization rate. There needs to be a herd immunity for us all to be protected.

    I will never be sure... (Where did I put my crystal ball? Dammit!) I don't know what the final decision will be yet.

    As a mom, as a parent, the "what ifs" are obviouslyt the scariest thing. What if I give the vaccine and it harms my child? What if I DON'T give the vaccine and my child ends up being one of the rare ones that gets this and has severe/fatal reaction to this flu?

    Well, that didn't get us anywhere, did it?! :)

  6. I'm a substitute teacher and have noticed that people are taking this flu a lot more seriously than previous years. I was in a class last week that had 10 students away, plus the teacher of course...I have NEVER seen this many absent before. School boards are allowing more sick days this year for teachers, and not requiring doctors' notes for longer absences in order to encourage people to stay home if they are sick.

    I have been very diligent about washing hands and not touching my face before doing so, and trying not to get too close to anyone - expecially those who seem obvoiusly sick. I am VERY anti-hand sanitizer, so I use good ol' soap and water. More of a pain, but I feel cleaner and don't stink of alcohol, etc...

    The flu (whichever strain or several strains?) is everywhere this year, but so far we are all still healthy. I did have a bad flu in the Spring - maybe I've already had it?

    Still on the fence about the vaccine, as a substitute teacher in my childbearing years with a 2 year old, I'm in the high risk group, but I'm definitely NOT feeling comfortable with the low level of research (I also have a science degree). Hubby is "letting me make the decision", grrrr!!