Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Flu shots all around!

Have you gotten your flu shot? Has every member of your family? Everyone's due now, according to government recommendations, even babies as young as six months. The guidelines suggest that little ones get not one but two shots, four weeks apart, to make sure the immunity really took. And this should of course be repeated on a yearly basis, since there's a different bug to battle each year. This is all just a suggestion, mind you. Nobody's calling these essential vaccinations yet. And why is that? Is it because there's some doubt that they may be necessary? safe? effective? Nope -- it's just that there's really not quite enough for everybody. So those responsible enough to show up for their shot at their doctor's suggestion will be gloriously flu-free, and the rest of us hardheads who harbor hesitations about vaccines of any sort can fend for ourselves, for now. But if at some point this winter we find ourselves or our children confined to bed with all manner of major discomforts, well, they told us so.

Personally, I'll take my chances. The thought of my kids stricken with the flu fills me with dread (for their physical health, of course, and also for my mental health if they're confined at home for weeks). But the thought of bringing them to the doctor for more shots does the same (for the possible negative implications of vaccinations, of course, and also for the whining and screaming that accompanies any contact my kids need to have with needles). And I'll admit, I'm feeling less and less obliged to take the word of medical professionals that something is absolutely necessary -- a good so undeniable that it's silly even to have doubts about it. That's the way my gynecologist described hormone replacement therapy five years ago. And where are we now, hmmm? There's a pretty long list of things that doctors have found to be universally good right up until the time that they weren't after all, go figure, and when you think of some of the side effects that have prompted those revelations, the flu starts to look pretty good.

Aw, you know, it's all just a crapshoot anyway. It's a crapshoot for the doctors -- how to do the most good for the most patients with the knowledge available now -- and it's a crapshoot for the rest of us -- am I more likely to be caught in a terrorist smallpox attack or be the one in a million who dies from the vaccine? is my child more likely to have neurological complications from vaccines or die of the measles? As with most other things in life, and most other things in parenting, you assess your odds and take your best guess. It's nice that, for the moment, we're being allowed to choose our own chances with flu and smallpox vaccinations. It would be nicer still if at least a little wiggle room was allowed in other "we know what's good for you" medical proclamations, too.

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