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To Swine or not to Swine? – Which risk is the right risk?

standard October 8, 2009 9 responses

You know, it’s not a manual we need when kids are born. Seriously, what would it say? Put food in one end and diapers on the other? Keep away from sharp objects? Great. Whatever.

No, what kids should come with is a crystal ball. So that you know what to do, what road to take, what decisions to make.

Take, for instance, this issue of the Swine Flu (N1H1) vaccine.

I have two little girls who suffer from asthma. Now granted, it is comparatively mild asthma. It’s well controlled with medication. We’ve never had to dash to the ER in the dead of the night. They get sick, we nebulize, they recover. End of story.

Except that their asthma trigger is being sick. And the flu is one of those things that could potentially really affect them. So every year I dutifully get them flu shots. And last year when M got the flu we pro-actively handed out Tamiflu like it was candy. (To be fair Little L also got sick and tested positive for the flu. Just so you don’t think we were being flippant or playing lose with a very serious drug.)

Both girls got their regular flu shots three weeks ago and I was being a good little mommy to little girls with compromised respiratory systems and I eagerly awaiting for the call to say that the N1H1 vaccine was ready and available.

Which it is. Only now I’m on the fence about having the girls take it.

It all started when my sister, a nurse at a very reputable hospital, told my other sister to not get it for her kids. Her coworkers are upset that they are being forced to take an unsafe drug that hasn’t been tested enough.

Which is all fine and dandy, but doesn’t that leave us with a “which danger is greater?” conundrum? Possible side effects and illness from a drug that isn’t ready vs. possible illness or death from a virus.

I jumped online to do a little more research.

Here are the facts that I gathered.

Right now H1N1 is relatively mild. The fear stems from the fact that it might, at some point, mutate into something quite potentially deadly and scary. It also stems from the fact that it doesn’t seem to affect the population that is usually affected by the flu – essentially anyone over the age of 40. And from the fact that people with compromised respiratory systems seem to be especially affected.

What do we make of that?
Well, presumably the fact that the older crowd is not affected is because they carry antibodies from being exposed to the Swine flu back in 1976.
If that’s the case, then it might be a good idea to let ourselves be exposed to this mild Swine flu so that we might have the necessary antibodies in case the flu mutates as predicted and turns deadly.
Which makes amazing sense until you throw in the compromised respiratory system thing. Because that’s what the girls have.


I really, really want to adhere to the belief that a little exposure to germs is a good thing. Especially if we know of great medicine that can heal the illnesses caused by those germs. I really, really want to listen to the people who say that the vaccine isn’t ready, it isn’t safe. But I also have to do the right thing by my children. Can I in all good conscience keep them from a vaccine that could potentially save their lives?

Which risk is the right risk?

And where’s my damn crystal ball?

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9 responses

  • Susan

    I saw your post come across Twitter and could immediately identify with it.

    I have a daughter with asthma and juvenile arthritis. Her arthritis medications suppress her immune system so if she gets sick, it will be much more difficult for her body to fight the flu. She gets the regular flu shot every year, but I am scared about the h1n1 shot for the same reasons you list.

    My daughter’s pediatrician who happened to be my pediatrician many, many years ago (he’s approaching 86!) is NOT vaccinating children with the h1n1 vaccine – not even the high risk kids. He said that it’s unnecessary and we should just call him if my daughter has any upper respiratory issues, and we’ll go from there.

    I still wonder though if there will be tamiflu if she needs it. I hear about the area deaths on the news each night – both people with no known health issues and those who have underlying issues. I think if that was my child, I’d be devastated and couldn’t live with myself if I could have done something about it, but hadn’t.

    I think we’ll go with the pediatrician’s recommendations and not vaccinate and pray she doesn’t come down with it. As I was worrying about her getting the flu, she fell this week at an after-school class and got a huge bloody gash in her forehead that required nine stitches. So it is a reminder that despite all the efforts I go to to try to keep my daughter safe, I can’t control everything. The flu virus situation is one of those times when I have to let it go and pray nothing bad happens.

    I didn’t realize the last swine flu outbreak was in ’76. I was five at the time. My daughter is now 5. I also busted open my head at age 5 (though to the back of my head) and required stitches. Interesting how things repeat themselves.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

  • Given my recent health concerns, they essentially wouldn’t let me out of the hospital w/o a flu shot. Fair enough. And I made sure the kids got flu shots before school started.

    Fast forward a few weeks and all three that are in school have swine flu and within days the baby (3) does, too. D gets home from being gone almost 40 days and is felled within days.

    Me? With zero immune system? Never even got a cough with five ppl sick in the same house. Maybe someone, somewhere thought I earned a break (which: a break that entails taking care of 5 sniffling boo-bears IS NOT A BREAK).

    Anyway. About the swine vaccine. Even with my already mentioned compromised immunity, no way, no how. It is way too new and Tamiflu is readily available. While I more than understand concerns about what it ”could” mutate into the fact is that at this point it IS relatively mild and treatable. So, none of that for us, any of us.

  • I intend to get it. I’ve had the regular flu two years running, and I’ve already had that vaccine, but I think the H1N1 is getting too far out of control. I heard on the news the other day that a 14 year old girl died from it – and that she had no previous health indications. All along, they’ve been saying it’s only dangerous to people who have compromised health situations, but yet this otherwise health girl is gone. That’s too scary for me.

  • I’m not getting the vaccine for my kids. I don’t get the regular flu vaccine for them, either.

    I just feel like they rushed this vaccine through and the risk, to me, isn’t worth it. I don’t know. Asthma certainly makes it a much more difficult decision.

  • I haven’t seen any account of anyone having problems with the vaccine. I HAVE heard of people dying from the flu. Also every year the flu vaccine is different. Every year the flu is different. It’s a very funny bug. If I had kids in school who were around a bunch of people everyday…and especially with health problems…I think the risk would be too great to not get the vaccine.

    Just my OP.

  • Following you over from Meredith’s: This is an excellent conversation you have here. I, too, have two kids with asthma (triggered almost always be the seasonal allergies) and we have decided against the vaccine. I have sarcoidosis and I will not take the vaccine either.

    It’s a tough call. Here’s to making the right decision.

  • As someone mentioned earlier, the regular flu vaccine is new every year as they are responding to the strains found from the previous year. The H1N1 is no different in that respect, so not really a “new” vaccine. I would say if you would vaccinate with the flu vaccine, then you should vaccinate with the H1N1.

    Also, I am a nurse as well, and believe me, the things I have seen in the hospital with the current H1N1 virus is scary enough without it mutating. In the last couple of months we have seen pregnant moms die (yes, more than one), people in comas, people with permanent tracheostomies, children that have died. Many of these have been treated with Tamiflu and many had no other risk factors. This alone is enough to make me want to get it for me and my non-compromised kids.

    It’s a tough decision to make however, and until I saw all that I have in the hospital I was ready to go the other way on my decision, so I totally get your fence wavering. Good luck with your decision, I hope what to do becomes clear to you.

  • The H1N1 vaccine is manufactured the same way as the seasonal flu vaccine. The seasonal vaccine changes every year (as someone already said), so essentially if you already get that one, you are getting a new vaccine every year. Doesn’t matter if it’s H1N1 or some other strain. The H1NI vaccine was manufactured and tested the same exact way as the seasonal vaccines.
    I intend on getting both vaccines for me and my girls. If one of them had serious complications from the flu, and I didn’t get her vaccinated, I would be devastated, knowing I didn’t take advantage of something that might have kept them from getting sick.
    And vaccines help eradicate sicknesses, so the more people that get the vaccine, the more likely the swine flu won’t have a chance to mutate – it will just disappear. Isn’t that better than “waiting to see” if it mutates into something deadly??

  • Great post, Jessica. I’ve spent so much time dealing with this decision and finally decided not to immunize. Not right away, anyway. This was after asking pediatricians (I asked 3 in our group), a pharmacist and a Peds ER Nurse. Only the nurse (my sister) said I should immunize. The pharmacist is pregnant and said she was hesitant, but due to her pgcy, she was immunizing. She wouldn’t be immunizing if she weren’t pregnant. My peds were hesitant to admit it, but in the end all agreed (separately) that its not something they would just jump in to. And that if I felt even the slightest bit concerned I shouldn’t do it. In-other-words, don’t be the guinea pig. Let others.

    But, then, we have a 10-week-old. And the 10-week-old is the concern.

    So, in the end, the decision is that should the 4- or 6-year-old get H1N1, we’ll do a lot of handwashing and keep the baby away from the boys. And, at that time, immediately treat both the big boys with Tamiflu, blah blah blah.

    Bottom line, its not worth it to me to risk their health on a flu risk.

    Off topic, thanks for the Audrey Niffenegger suggestion. Going to order it asap. LOVED Tropper’s TIWILY and totally agree with your summary.

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