By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
I've got a sick child at home this week, and the good news is that her swine flu test came back negative. But I'm surprised at the number of worried, hand-wringing parents who have asked me if I've made a decision about whether to get her vaccinated once she's healthy again.
What "decision" is there to make? Of course we're getting our two kids vaccinated for both seasonal and H1N1 flu. Thousands of people have died from H1N1 worldwide, and millions have been infected. And while the symptoms aren't so bad this fall, we know it's coming back to the United States this winter, at least according to the latest projections from the Centers for Disease Control. It's tracking along the lines of the 1918 pandemic, which mutated and returned in the winter—much worse than the previous fall—and killed millions.
The upcoming issue of the New Yorker magazine has a great piece by Michael Specter in which he takes on the anti-vaccination folks, who seemed to gain support over the summer when schools were closed and the flu was dormant:
That hiatus provided an opening for the anti-vaccine, anti-government, and anti-science crowd, and they stormed through. Where, they wondered, was the big pandemic? Where were all the bodies? Last week, the political pundit Bill Maher dispatched a communiqué to his fifty-six thousand followers on Twitter: "If u get a swine flu shot ur an idiot." The view seems widespread. A national poll conducted by the University of Michigan found that only forty per cent of American parents plan to vaccinate their children against H1N1. The news is all the more distressing because the virus affects children and young adults far more powerfully than it does older people ...
Why would a parent decline to vaccinate his child against a virus that has already infected a million Americans? Half of those who participated in the poll expressed concern about possible side effects. Vaccines do cause side effects, and, in rare instances, the side effects can be serious ... But the odds that a flu vaccine would cause more harm than the illness itself are practically zero. Nearly half of those polled said that they weren't worried about their children getting the flu. (There have even been reports of "swine-flu parties,'' where parents can bring children in the hope that they will contract a potentially fatal disease.)
Which is worse: the risks of a potentially fatal pandemic that is proven to target children, or the fear being spread by alarmists who are afraid of unproven, potential side effects of vaccines?