Every year my family and I perform a strange ritual. I blame my mother. Growing up with a nurse/public health educator meant two things in our household: 1) Under no circumstances would I get pregnant as a teenager (you should have seen the level of detail in the pamphlets my parents handed out over dinner!) and 2) If there was an immunization, I would get it. The Flu Shot Ritual was more indicative of the beginning of fall to me than the leaves changing colors.
Not every family was like mine, however. I have quite a few friends who look horror-stricken every time I tell them about getting me and the kiddies shot up on a regular basis. And sometimes I wonder if they're right. After all, why else did God give us an immune system if he didn't mean for us to use it? And while serious side effects are rare, the flu vaccine is optional so why get more stuff stuck in your body than you have to?
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But what does the science say? Surprisingly, a meta-analysis of flu studies published in the Lancet last week, shows "most flu vaccines provide only moderate protection against influenza, and in some years barely make a difference at all." Even worse: "The analysis also suggests that the people who most need protection from flu - children and seniors - may be the least likely to derive benefit from vaccines."
However the Center for Disease Control is still recommending that "everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine each year" and they are particularly adamant that children under 5 (and especially under 2) and pregnant women get vaccinated, pointing out that influenza can be deadly.
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In the past I've always gone with the "better safe than sorry" approach and done the vaccine (it helps that everyone in my family can now have the flu mist sprayed up our noses rather than the shot) but this year I'm rethinking that decision. Is it worth the (small) risk if the benefits are so small?
Is your family getting the flu shot this year?
- No, I think it makes me sick or I object to vaccines on principle.
- I mean to, but usually I'm too busy.
- Some years I do, some I don't depending on how bad the flu is predicted to be.
- Absolutely, every year! Listen to your mother!
Read more of Charlotte on REDBOOK's The Motherboard blog.
Charlotte Hilton Andersen is a mom of 5 and the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and the blog of the same name.
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