Lining your child up for a flu vaccine could be the most humanitarian gesture you make this holiday season.
You can drag your kids to all the soup kitchens, homeless shelters and Habitat for Humanity projects you want, but the biggest, most selfless act of kindess you can teach them is to stick out their arm or nose and get a shot or blast of the H1N1 immunization.
It's free – and it more than likely will save the life of another person.
That's because if you aren't immunized and you get this flu, you could easily expose other, more vulnerable children and adults. For people considered "high risk," this flu is a scary, life-threatening virus. And I'm not just talking about a very sick kid with cancer sitting in a hospital room. Obese people, pregnant women and people with asthma are all particularly vulnerable to this strain of flu and its side effects – so are people who live alone and babies who can't talk yet. If you don't know at least one person who fits this description then you live in a bubble.
Children who get the flu vaccine are not only protecting themselves, they're helping protect their grandparents, classmates, neighbors, parents and anybody else they come in contact with – including that Santa whose lap they sit on at the mall.
When there is less disease in our community, that's a good thing. That's how we beat polio, whooping cough, measles and the mumps. The decision to vaccinate is not just an individual choice; it affects all of us.
I get why some parents are afraid of vaccines. There are a lot of required shots – and there are just as many he said-she said horror stories passed on about kids having bizarre reactions to them. Nationwide, about 38 percent of parents say they're unlikely to give permission for their kids to be vaccinated at school, according to an Associated Press poll; 72 percent of parents are worried about the side effects. A recent check of 19 Miami-Dade public elementary schools in a vaccination program showed an acceptance rate of only 12 percent.
I don't fault parents for not lining up like good soldiers to have their kids immunized just because their government tells them it's a good thing to do. We're Americans. It's our birthright to question authority. From the English with their tea tax to Nixon's Watergate, history has taught us that the scariest words a government can say are "trust us."
But this time, we need to listen to the scientists. As a journalist, I've interviewed dozens of doctors and researchers at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention over the past 20 years. They are some of the smartest, most diligent, reasonable people I've ever met. And they're a lot sharper than Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher, who have both publicly thumbed their noses at getting swine flu shots. (Since when did we start taking medical advice from talk show hosts and comedians?)
If you have any lingering fears about immunizations poisoning your child then I urge you to read this article in Discover magazine, http://discovermagazine.com/2009/jun/06-why-does-vaccine-autism-controversy-live-on.
Honestly, I suspect that fear is not the real reason parents aren't vaccinating their children against this flu. It's inertia. When you're bombarded with information, it's easier to wring your hands and become paralyzed by the debate and do nothing, hoping it just goes away. It takes time and some master scheduling to sift through all the views, make your own decision, get your kids in a car and drive to a doctor's office or health clinic -- or sign a form and stick it back in your kid's backpack.
Here's a true story that I don't mind people repeating: I took my two kids, ages 9 and 10, for their nasal-spray flu vaccines last Wednesday, a school holiday. They were nervous. They scrunched their faces up a little when the nurse stuck the tube in their noses. They took one blast in each nostril. Because I have asthma, I got two blasts, too. My pediatrician did not have the regular flu vaccine, but since more than 90 percent of the flu cases this year are being labeled H1N1, I feel we're protected from any serious threats. I called ahead, but the nurse said we didn't need an appointment. We walked into the office and were ushered into a room for our blasts less than 5 minutes later. The doctor (who we never saw) charged me $15 per person, an administrative fee I'm going to try to recoup from my insurance company (I know, good luck with that).
Then we walked out of the doctor's office and spent the day window shopping and thinking about Christmas at The Falls. We all sneezed a few times. I felt really tired at the end of the day and my throat was a little sore. The next day, we woke up and went to school and work. We all felt fine and continue to feel fine, almost a week later.
Including drive time, the effort took about an hour out of our lives. And that was our gift to you and yours this year, no matter what holiday you believe in.
For a list of free vaccination clinics in South Florida, go to http://www.miamiherald.com/news/more-info/story/1328996.html