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To Get a Flu Shot... Or Not
October 25, 2011
Well, we tried. I took my son Joseph to his allergist to get a scratch test for the flu vaccine—and possibly the flu shot for the first time in his 8 years of life. My chest has been tight with worry since I made the appointment a week ago. I was concerned about the possibility of Joseph having a life-threatening reaction if he received the vaccine, yet also worried about yet another stressful flu season for my asthmatic son if he didn't receive the vaccine's protection.
When talk of the flu begins each season, I can feel the anxiety building. I had never considered getting a flu vaccine for Joseph because he is allergic to egg, an ingredient in the vaccine, along with peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk and soy. Of course, as an asthmatic he unfortunately also is in the high-risk group for complications from the flu. For the past few years, he’s had rough winters with the flu and other respiratory viruses.
This year's venture into the land of flu shots was based on the latest recommendation from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) that many people with egg allergy could safely receive the seasonal vaccine. I read the recommendation and many people's stories about successfully getting the flu shot even with an egg allergy. But with all we do to ensure that Joseph avoids all of the allergens that threaten his life, it freaks me out to think that something that contains egg would be injected into his body. So after his allergist suggested we try it out with certain precautions, I turned to my local support group, NC FACES (Food Allergic Children Excelling Safely), for a bit more advice. As always, they delivered. It was because of their tips and support that I was able to walk into that office, knowing that it could be a rough visit either way.
The plan was that if Joseph didn't react to the scratch test, he would get 10 percent of the vaccine and then the other 90 percent if he didn't react from the first part of the dose, as recommended by the CDC. Because he hadn't had his food allergies tested in more than a year, the nurse did a scratch test for several foods and the flu vaccine. As Joseph lay on his stomach, playing his Nintendo DSi, I watched the hives develop. This is nothing new for us. I'm used to watching big hives grow on Joseph's back during allergy testing. He's used to it, too, and never complains about how bad his back itches during the 15 minutes the allergens are creating a design on his back. But this time, I was looking for a specific result to see if he could receive the vaccine.
The flu vaccine spot wasn't a huge hive like the spot with egg and the other spots with Joseph's known allergens, but it also wasn't a completely negative reaction. Joseph's doctor decided that the flu vaccine would be too risky in light of the scratch test results.
Joseph smiled and jumped off of the exam table, ready to head to the lab for his blood work. He was happy not to get the flu shot. He wasn't concerned about the needle since he receives regular immunotherapy shots for his environmental allergies, but he, too, had been a bit worried about how his body would react to the vaccine. I was partly relieved about not dealing with a potential reaction. But the tightness in my chest did not go away as quickly as I had expected after the appointment. After all, my asthmatic son is still facing a long flu season ahead.
Living Without contributor Wendy Mondello blogs about food allergies at http://tasteofallergyfreeliving.blogspot.com.