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Flu vaccinations are serious business

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Posted: Friday, October 17, 2008 10:00 pm

Q: My grandson is 8 months old, and the pediatrician wants to vaccinate him for the flu. My daughter and I are at odds because she wants to vaccinate him, and I don't think she should. She reads your column, so what is your opinion? - A.H., Memphis

A: It's a personal decision, but my children never got it. Since the 2003-2004 flu season, the Center for Disease Control has tracked the number of children under age 18 who die from flu complications. Since then, the annual number of confirmed child flu deaths has ranged from 44 to 153. As a result, the CDC recommends that we increase the number of shots by about 30 million and vaccinate our entire next generation, all kids 6 months old to 19 years of age. There are no long-term safety tests, and some of the vials (multi-dose vials) contain thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative.

Kids who get sick with the flu are more susceptible to other bad bugs like deadly MRSA or pneumonia, so vaccinating them sounds fair enough. Vaccinations only contain a few different strains of influenza, even though about 200 strains circulate. And worse yet, the decision regarding which strains of flu go into the vaccine are determined almost a year in advance. So the scientists are really just guessing. Some years they get it right, but sometimes they miss it altogether.

Currently, there are two popular ways to get vaccinated. There is a flu shot, which contains "inactivated" dead virus. It can cause soreness at the injection site, a low-grade fever and muscle aches and weakness. You can't get the flu from it, but you might feel like you did.

The other way to get vaccinated is with a nasal spray called FluMist. It contains living flu virus (but it is weakened and sluggish), so they call it "live attenuated" influenza virus. It's approved for 2 year olds and up. After receiving this, it's possible for you to feel like you've actually got the flu because the side effects include runny nose, wheezing, headache, fever, vomiting, muscle aches, sore throat and cough.

So is it going to help you or your baby? It depends on your age, health status, and whether or not the vaccination 'matches' the strain you are exposed to. You should not get a flu vaccination if you are sick, allergic to eggs, or if you've had a severe reaction to a vaccine in the past.

This information is not intended treat, cure or diagnose your condition. Suzy Cohen is the author of "The 24-Hour Pharmacist." For more information, visit http://www.DearPharmacist.com.

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