Vaccinate or skip it?

So I’m squarely in the vaccinate camp. On Saturday my youngest daughter turned 6 months old. On Monday at her 6-month doctor’s appointment she got five different vaccinations, four shots and one oral. That included shots for both seasonal flu and for the swine flu strain.

In fact, last year our household worked hard to get everyone their flu shots. My wife, our older daughter, who is three-and-a-half, and I went to the nearest city health center and got our swine flu shots. We wanted to protect our infant and ourselves from the second wave of the 2009 H1N1 flu that was sweeping across the country and the globe.

Honestly, I was mystified by friends and family in high-risk groups who refused to get vaccinated. They often cited concerns about the vaccine’s safety that had been dismissed by scientific, public health and medical experts.

While the new strain of the virus generally resulted in mild cases, it impacted the young, pregnant women, and adults with underlying medical conditions particularly hard. Still, many people refuse to vaccinate their children or themselves.

The anti-vaccinate crowd is likely to dismiss the recommendation yesterday by a key panel of experts that everyone – the entire population - above six months of age get flu shots next year. The federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices ruled unanimously that everyone should be vaccinated for the 2010-2011 flu season. The committee’s recommendations typically are endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and by insurance companies.

Only a few years ago, the committee had recommended that that only people in certain high-risk groups, like the elderly, get flu shots. But it has been expanding those recommendations year by year – before the swine flu pandemic hit – and now is suggesting vaccination for everyone over age 2.

Despite efforts to get non-traditional groups such as young adults vaccinated against swine flu, many skipped the shots. Availability was a major factor, but many people also cited concerns about safety. Public health officials responded that those concerns were misplaced; the same methods were used to produce the new H1N1 vaccine as has been used for seasonal flu vaccines for more than 50 years.

The committee said another factor “in favor of a universal recommendation for vaccination is that many people in currently recommended ‘higher risk’ groups are unaware of their risk factor or that they are recommended for vaccination.”

Numerous strains of flu circulate each season, and every winter the advisory committee selects the three strains that it believes will dominate the next season and should be included in the next seasonal vaccine. The new H1N1 appeared on the scene too late last year for inclusion in the seasonal vaccine, which is why the swine flu vaccine was made separately.

This week, the advisory committee decided that the 2009 H1N1 should be one of the three strains that next season’s regular flu shots should protect against.

Producing vaccine takes months, so the new seasonal flu shots will not be available until late summer or fall, as usual. Meanwhile, the separate swine flu vaccine is still available. Swine flu has defied scientists’ expectations again and again, and while they have reason to believe it will come back as one of the seasonal strains next season, no one really knows whether it will also come back next week or next month.

Many health-care providers have swine flu vaccine, as do free public-health clinics in every county around the region except for Bucks. Some Walgreens, CVS/Pharmacy and Rite-Aid stores do as well, although you should call to check restrictions in advance. All of them linked here,

If it does, Etta and the rest of our family will be protected.