Friday Parenting Myth: “Flu Vaccines Cause Children to ‘Get the Flu'”

As the colder weather approaches (and your little ones will soon be outside in search for Halloween candy!) it is important to clear up this myth.

This is a particularly dangerous myth because influenza kills many children all over the world every year. There are currently two vaccines available in the United States: the first is a “dead” virus that is injected-at the site of injection, there may be redness, swelling, or aches. This vaccine can also cause a fever. However, this “dead” virus cannot cause disease. The second type of flu vaccine is a “live”, attenuated vaccine- this is a genetically modified flu virus that also cannot cause flu in its recipients. There are no known cases of this genetically modified “live” vaccine reverting to the original influenza virus and causing disease. There are certain children who should not get the influenza vaccine and parents need to discuss their child’s health with their pediatrician prior to getting the vaccine.

So why does this myth persist? There is a Latin saying: “post hoc ergo propter hoc” which translates to “after this, therefore, because of this.” This fallacy in logic refers to the belief that because A precedes B in time, that A causes B. Many people believe this myth because when they get the flu vaccine, they are also contracting other viruses that are making them sick. Whether this is due to the time of year when the vaccine is administered (winter=more viral complaints) or where the vaccine is administered (health care providers are where many sick people congregate), it is hard to tell. Feeling sick after receiving the flu vaccine is oftentimes a coincidence. That’s why pediatricians recommend routine influenza vaccines for infants over 6 months of age, toddlers, children, and adolescents.

-Daniel Weissbluth

Weissbluth Pediatrics

References:

Tosh, P.K., T.G Boyce, and G.A Poland. 2008 Flu Myths: dispelling the myths associated with a live attenuated influenza vaccine. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 83 (1): 77-84

CDC, “Key facts about Influenza and Flu Vaccine” http://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm (Accessed June 2011)

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