Sunday, November 30, 2014

Flu Vaccine and Family Dynamics

I am typing this as my sweet little girl sleeps next to me. It's hard not to just stare at her perfect features all day, but I will try to focus. 

C and I both work in healthcare, at the two major competing hospitals in our city. Both hospitals have required employees to receive the yearly flu vaccine for several seasons now. If you refuse the shot for certain allowable reasons (religious, allergies, etc.), you are required to wear a mask to work during the entire flu season. I remember the rule causing some controversy at first, but now it is just automatic. 

I agree with the mandate. We elect to work with sick people that are a) more likely to transmit germs to us and b) have compromised immune systems and are at greater risks of complications if we transmit germs to them. 

Our daughter is now just four weeks old and is in the category of greatest risk for complications from the flu, being under 6 months. Also being under six months, she is unable to get the vaccine. Her immune system is just too tiny and fragile now. Therefore, the CDC recommendation is that those around her be vaccinated and that we avoid anyone who is sick. The flu is contagious at least one day prior to the onset of symptoms and then at least five days after symptoms appear. 

Being overly cautious, first-time parents, C and I have requested that anyone who holds our daughter have received the vaccine and not be ill. 

My family was extremely agreeable to this. My sister's husband who has never had the vaccine in his life and lives two hours away got the shot. My two uncles, one without insurance and poor finances, got the shot. My single, male cousin got the shot within two days of his dad mentioning it and without any specific plans to see her. Everyone at our Thanksgiving dinner was vaccinated and took turns passing around the baby from relative to relative. 

C's family has been another story. Of his three sisters, only one got her family vaccinated. They normally get the flu shot, as both parents also work in healthcare, but made sure that it was received a little earlier this year. His one sister reported concerns about how it is is made and opposing most vaccines based on this principle and his other sister didn't give a reason. His mother "never gets it" due to concerns of potential allergens and his father "was going to get it" but ended up having a UTI that day. 

At their family Thanksgiving dinner, C brought hospital masks for people to wear if they wanted to hold Beuhla despite not being vaccinated. Only his mother opted to don a mask for the sake of holding the baby. Everyone else declined, giving the strong message that it wasn't worth it. We spent the entire time with Beuhla in our own arms, with what felt like minimal interest from his siblings or their families. (His sister's family who had received the vaccine were unable to make the trip, but I'm sure they would have been more enthused to see her.)

Needless to say, C was hurt by his family's lack of enthusiasm and for them not taking his request seriously. I think it was especially hurtful in comparison to my family. I let him take the lead of deciding how to handle the situation (i.e. sticking to our original plan or giving in) and I think he was comfortable with the decision. After all, it's not like we were asking for something that wasn't also to their own benefit and we also provided a second, non-invasive, option of the masks. Personally, I have not had a strong emotional reaction, instead observing the unfolding course of events with a sense of intellectual curiosity. 

I am curious about why our two families responded so differently to this request: if it is the difference between Beuhla being the first grandchild in my family compared with the 10th in C's family, or if his family doesn't take him seriously because he is the youngest child, or if my family is more open to vaccinations in general due to our strong presence in healthcare fields, or some other reason. 

It is also been interesting to me to observe this as one of the first controversial parenting decisions we have made - How our parenting can influence family dynamics so significantly. How others' can have such strong opinions and emotions when it comes the decisions we are making for our daughter. How much easier it would have been to allow family pressure to influence us away from our beliefs and ideals. Parenting is proving to be a fascinating social psychology experiment.

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