My mother called last night to make sure we all got our flu shots; she’d been watching the frightening news reports of this season’s widespread and deadly flu. I had to confess to her that only one out of four of us had gotten the flu shot. I’d encouraged Steven, our youngest son in college, to do so because he’d b een sick all semester. (I swear starting college is like starting preschool when it comes to spreading germs and sharing colds! As for the rest of us . . . well, we just hadn’t gotten around to it.
Also, I have to admit I’m a bit reluctant because my oldest son Daniel and I have egg allergies. The flu vaccine is made using eggs. Dan and I avoid baked goods and medicines with tiny amounts of egg so why would we forcefully stick egg protein, even miniscule amounts, into our bodies?
What’s worse? Having a severe reaction to the flu shot, or getting the flu?
For the past few years, the flu season passed without me getting vaccinated. Fortunately, I didn’t get the flu. Daniel did get a shot last year and didn’t have a reaction. But that doesn’t mean the next time egg protein enters his body, he won’t react, and his allergies seem to have gotten worse this past year.
But, because this year’s flu season is one of the worst the country has seen in 10 years, reported by my mom as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and because the TV reports of schools being closed, hospitals being inundated with flu patients, and flu-related deaths —one heartbreaking one showing a teen boy dying from complications of the flu—I decide I better learn more about egg allergies and the flu shot.
What I learn is that while it was once suggested that those of us with egg allergies avoid the flu vaccine, this is no longer true (studies show reactions to the tiny bit of egg in the vaccine are quite rare). In fact, reputable organizations, such as the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) and The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), encourage those of us who react with only hives after exposure to eggs get the preventative shot (note: this recommendation does not apply to nasal spray flu vaccine). Precautions should be taken though: the healthcare professional administering the flu shot should be familiar with the potential manifestations of egg allergy and should monitor for at least 30 minutes for signs of a reaction. Those with severe allergies to egg (i.e., anaphylaxis) should seek an allergy specialist to administer the vaccine.
Some physicians recommend skin testing with the flu vaccine or splitting the vaccine into two dosages (using the first smaller dose as a test), but the 2013 guidelines say this is unnecessary. If someone reacts to the flu shot previously and are high-risk, there are medications that can be taken within 24 hours of developing symptoms to alleviate or prevent the flu’s progression.
Since Dan and my reactions to egg are mild, I now feel comfortable getting our shots from a medical professional familiar with allergic reactions. However, I’m not so sure I’d risk the flu shot if either of us had ever experienced a severe reaction, or if my son was younger (he’s twenty-two). Even with the reassurance that reactions are rare, I understand reluctance by parents, like those of the four-year-old boy in New Jersey. You may have read about Jeremy. He can’t go to school now because New Jersey state law requires all children six months to five years be vaccinated against the flu to be eligible for licensed daycare or Pre-K. Jeremy has an egg allergy and his parents aren’t willing to take a risk of a severe reaction.
I can’t blame them.
Do you agree or disagree with Jeremy’s parents? What are your experiences with egg allergies and the flu shot?
Algorithm from Dr. Leickly
- Flu outbreak: Why are so many not getting vaccinated? (foxnews.com)
- NJ boy not allowed back to school without flu shot (foxnews.com)
- Health dilemma: Officials recommend it, but is the flu shot for you? (swrnn.com)
- The Medical Minute: Dispelling Common Myths about the Flu Vaccine (gantdaily.com)
- New Flu Vaccine Egg Allergy Guidelines