I think every parent in America—especially those of us with very young children—has been wrestling with the question of whether or not to get our kids vaccinated for the H1N1 virus. The virus—thankfully, no longer referred to as "swine flu," in deference to piggies everywhere—has been responsible for the deaths of 10 people in the state of Maryland, including two young people with no previously known medical conditions.
It would seem like a no-brainer to have children—who are, along with pregnant women, the most vulnerable to the disease—vaccinated against it. But in the age of Internet-induced hysteria, there are claims that the vaccine is not safe, that it has not been tested, that it's more dangerous than the disease itself.
For answers, I turned to my trusted pediatricians Dr. Ralph Brown and Nurse Practitioner Celia Bardoff, who have expertly guided my wife and I through past crises. Bardoff reassured me that, as I had heard in recent, reliable reports on NPR and elsewhere, that the H1N1 vaccine is as safe as a normal flu shot.
"We are recommending that people get the vaccine," she says. "It was made the same way as the regular seasonal flu vaccine."
Most private doctors' offices, including Dr. Brown and Ms. Bardoff's, have not yet received their requested doses of the vaccine, but should in the coming days. When they do get their requested doses, Dr. Brown and Ms. Bardoff will first administer them to patients with underlying conditions like asthma, congenital heart defects, and sickle cell anemia, and are keeping a list of other patients who have expressed interest in giving their kids the vaccine to give it to after that.
If you don't want to wait until your doctor gets the vaccine, and you are a Baltimore City resident, you can come to Poly high school on Thursday to do it. See the information below, from the Baltimore City Health Department:
The Health Department received its first allotment of H1N1 FluMist intranasal spray vaccine Oct. 6 and immediately began vaccinating health care workers who will be immunizing children in schools. FluMist will be administered free of charge to healthy Baltimore City children ages 2 to 24 years old on Thursday, Oct. 15, at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, located at 1400 W. Cold Spring Lane. This one-day clinic will be open from noon until 8:00 p.m. 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine will be provided to city residents ONLY on a first-come, first-serve basis. Parents/Guardians should bring proof of age (birth certificate or school id) and residency (eg. driver’s license, state ID, or a recent power/phone/cable monthly statement). Children must be accompanied by a parent/guardian who can give written consent. Staff fluent in Spanish will be present.
That is currently the only location where the City is doling out flu vaccine. Baltimore County has not yet set up any distribution of vaccines. Get more information from the Baltimore City Health Department or the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Most importantly, Ms. Bardoff, says, do not go to the emergency room if your child shows flu symptoms.
"Stay home, give Motrin and popsicles—do not go to the emergency room unless your children are having a hard time breathing," says Bardoff, who reports that 40 nervous parents brought sick kids to the Sinai emergency room yesterday, waiting up to six hours, only to be sent home with Motrin and popsicles (good both for hydration and to keep blood sugar up—plus, of course, yummy.) "Emergency rooms are not testing anyone for flu unless they have underlying conditions that put them at risk for complications."
There you have it. Stay healthy and informed.
[PHOTO: A child gets the H1N1 nasal mist vaccine in Anapolis, where it became available last week. Courtesy, Shannon Lee Zirkle, The Capital]