Flu shots, pregnancy and the unborn child

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Hard to believe but it's already flu season again. Or, to be more accurate, it's really (hopefully) flu PREVENTION season. This week the Center for Disease Control whipped out a new, stronger than ever campaign to get pregnant women and young children vaccinated. This campaign, of course, is not without its controversy. Not so long ago, one of our commenters seemed to think the topic of vaccinations was my high horse, as I write about it frequently, but I can assure you that's not the case. I'm a parent, too, with the same concerns as many of you regarding vaccines and children's health--I'm just interested in getting as much information as possible and seeing how the whole thing turns out.

According to the CDC, children as young as six months of age should be getting flu vaccinations. It strongly recommended vaccinations for kids up to eighteen years old, pregnant women, healthcare workers and anyone over the age of fifty. Seems harmless enough, right? I mean, most of us have gotten at least one flu shot in our lives and for the most part we turned out OK. The problem with the flu vaccine, which contains thimerosal, is that thimerosal contains mercury. Yep, mercury. Rather DANGEROUS. Now, that said, we've all been assured that even if it did contain said mercury, the amount would be no more than that in a small can of tuna. Contrary to that, however, are the findings that the kind of mercury found in thimerosal differs from that found in tuna (methyl mercury) in that it stays in the system, namely the brain, for a lot longer period of time. This is not great news for a developing fetal brain.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists claim that pregnant women should be getting this vaccine and that there isn't any evidence of harmful effects to women or their unborn children. According to some that notion is quite misleading as it implies that tons of tests and research has been done on the subject, when, in fact, it has not. Still, what would my pediatrician say? Well, he'd tell me that the chances of something happening to my child as a result of the flu vaccine are a great deal smaller than what might happen if he remained unvaccinated. When one weighs the odds from that perspective the vaccination wins out.

Clearly, more research is needed and the results well-established before we make any uniform decisions with respect to vaccinating our children--unborn or not. The other side of the argument? Opt for what my pediatrician did--offer flu shots without thimerosal. Hopefully, pregnant women can get that option too.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.