Every year, flu season comes, and every year, I turn down the flu vaccine. My dad was required to get a yearly flu vaccine because he was in the Navy, and without fail, he would come down with flu-like symptoms after he received his vaccination. My personal track record observing the flu vaccine doesn’t get much better. As a dietetic intern in the 2002-2003 flu season, 3 interns–including myself–did not receive the flu vaccine, and the other 3 interns did receive the flu vaccine. Guess who got sick with flu-like symptoms that year–the 3 interns who received the vaccine. Guess who did not get sick with flu-like symptoms that year–the 3 interns who did not receive the vaccine.
Personal experience is all fine and dandy when it’s just myself I have to worry about. But now that I’m pregnant, I see advisories out from every sort of women’s health care association and federal government agency for pregnant women to get a flu shot. Tell me stories about pregnant women losing their unborn children to H1N1 (swine flu) or pertussis (whooping cough), and I say, “Vaccination? Where do I sign up?!”
But fear isn’t a good way to make objective decisions either, so this weekend, I turned to the research. Granted, I’m no expert, but I can read, and I do have a degree in health science, which included a class in health science research. With that said, here’s what I found.
The flu vaccine probably would:
- Provoke an immune response, leaving me with antibodies to the specific strains of flu virus that would be in the vaccine I receive. This is called immunogenicity. Note that immunogenicity is not equivalent to efficacy. Antibodies don’t necessarily translate into being 100% protected from the flu.
The flu vaccine might:
- Protect me from catching the flu. If the strains of viruses in the flu vaccine are well-matched to the viruses in circulation this year, it may decrease my risk of becoming ill from the flu.
The flu vaccine probably won’t:
- Decrease my risk of visiting my health care provider or being hospitalized for upper respiratory illness.
- Protect my newborn from visiting a health care provider due to an upper respiratory illness.
I did not find any evidence that the flu vaccine causes harm to pregnant women or their unborn children . On the flip side, I did not find any evidence that the flu vaccine provides significant benefits to pregnant women or their unborn children. Honestly, I could go either way. For now, I’m thinking I’ll turn down the vaccine as usual. I’d rather take my chances with washing my hands frequently and keeping my home and workspace clean.
I know, I know…who am I to come to a different conclusion than thousands of health care professionals and scientific experts? My whole life I’ve had a hard time blindly accepting one-size-fits-all guidelines–whether they’re for health, spirituality, lifestyle, whatever. My decision isn’t set in stone though. If someone can show me a well-constructed study that shows significant benefit for pregnant women, I’ll jump in line for a shot.
Whether you’re pregnant or not, what do you plan to do for you and your family this flu season?