Another Anti-Vaccination Myth Put to Rest. Pregnant Women Can Safely Take the Flu Shot

Vaccinations have been blamed for causing autism in children and used as an excuse to permit school age children to opt out of receiving vaccinations and immunizations but still attend school. The result has been a reemergence of measles and other preventable childhood illnesses in multiple areas of the world.

Anti-vaccination advocates have extended their arguments to claim pregnant women receiving the flu shot are increasing their off springs’ chance of developing a disease on the autism spectrum. To study this question Jonas F. Ludviggson, MD, PhD of the Karolinka Institute in Stockholm, Sweden explored this question. They followed large numbers of pregnant women in Sweden during the 2009-2010 influenza season and then followed their newborns for almost seven more years. Over 39,000 pregnant moms were vaccinated with the standard inactivated flu vaccine that season. Only 1% of their children, 394, had developed illnesses on the autism spectrum by 2016. Conversely, over 29,000 moms did not receive the flu shot that season and 394, or 1.1%, of their offspring developed diseases on the autism spectrum. There was NO statistical difference in the groups. Their research paper was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine Journal.

As we head into influenza immunization season; the voices of scientists, public health experts and physicians will be encouraging everyone to take a flu shot. The voices of those who believe these vaccinations will cause harm will also be loud.

Look at the data and scientific evidence and please take your flu shot this season. It certainly is not a perfect preventive treatment but it reduces symptoms and severity in those unfortunate enough to catch it. Call your doctor and make an appointment to receive your flu shot.

Flu Shot Campaign Begins

As school bells ring out announcing a new school year and pigskins fly through the air announcing the arrival of a new football season, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) begins its annual influenza vaccine campaign.  “Flu” or influenza is a viral illness associated with fever, severe muscle aches, general malaise and respiratory symptoms.  Most healthy children and adults can run a fever for 5 – 7 days and fight off the infection over a 10 day to three week period.  There is clearly a long period of malaise and debilitation in many that lasts for weeks after the acute febrile illness resolves.

The illness is especially severe and often lethal in the elderly, in infants, in patients with asthma and chronic lung disease and in those patients who have a weakened immune system due to disease or cancer treatments. Diabetics and heart patients are particularly vulnerable to the lethal effects of unchecked influenza.

The CDC recommends vaccinating all Americans over six years old against influenza.  Adults can receive an injection, or a nasal application.  The 2012 – 2013 vaccine has been updated from the 2011 – 2012 version based on samplings of current influenza viruses spreading around the world.   It takes about two weeks to develop antibodies and immunity to influenza after you receive the vaccination.  If you received the vaccine last season or had the flu last season you are still advised to receive the 2012 – 2013 vaccine this year because immunity fades with time.  Flu vaccine should have arrived in most physician offices and community health centers and pharmacies by mid- August.  The CDC advises taking the shot as soon as it is available.

The vaccines used are not live viruses so one cannot catch the flu from the vaccine. Side effects usually include warmth and tenderness at the injection site and rarely general malaise and low grade fever a day or so later.  The benefits of receiving the vaccine far outweigh these minor and rare ill effects which can be treated with an ice pack to the injection site and some acetaminophen.  Please call your doctor to set up an appointment for a flu vaccine.

For those individuals who catch the flu we still have several antiviral agents available to treat the illness. These agents should decrease the intensity or severity and duration of the flu. We try to use these medicines as infrequently as possible because the flu can develop resistance to them over time.

Prevention of disease is an ever increasing component of our everyday language. Vaccination against an infectious disease such as flu or influenza is clearly one of the more effective preventive strategies physicians have available to offer patients.  While you are making arrangements to receive your flu shot inquire about several other effective adult vaccines including Pneumovax to prevent bacterial pneumonia, Zostavax to prevent shingles and post herpetic neuralgia and Tdap to prevent whooping cough or pertussis and tetanus.