The flu season is upon us and I hate to be so prescriptive, but when it comes to avoiding influenza, I feel like I have to be. I get the flu vaccine each year as does my entire family — I think you should, too. I’m passionate about vaccines and have had the luxury of blogging and deploying vaccine science education to the world since I began the Seattle Mama Doc blog in 2009. I’ve been particularly vocal about the flu shot and have leveraged traditional, digital and social media tools ever since I began. I’ve used my blog, book, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and my podcast to share information about recommendations and rationale for why a flu shot makes sense for every infant over 6 months, child, teen, and adult. Of anything I’ve learned over the years, it’s this: building public insight into why this annual flu vaccine recommendation makes sense, is a marathon…it’s not a little sprint. Influenza can be a nasty virus with life-threatening and life-ending complications and it’s an ongoing obligation to ensure everyone in this country understands ways to decrease risk.

Data is on our side that online efforts in social media are worthwhile for spreading valuable research, expertise, and education. Every parent wants their child to stay healthy and live long into adulthood. Those who decline/defer vaccinations or don’t get the flu vaccine are clearly no different in that regard when compared to parents who do immunize with flu vaccine. But levels of trust and understanding for the science of safety in vaccinations between the groups may differ.

Thankfully, new research shows these online efforts by doctors like me may help families understand rationale for immunizations, especially if moms were educated even before the baby was born. A study published this morning in Pediatrics leaves those of us sharing information online validated in our efforts.

US Study Finds Blogs And Social Media Influence Infant Vaccine Status:

Pregnant moms exposed to online blog content about immunizations and social messaging about the science and safety of vaccinations were more likely to vaccinate their infants on-time during infancy than moms who received regular routine care without exposure to online education. Basically, moms who were given blogs and social media messages with education and explanations about immunizations were better about ensuring that their infants got their vaccines on-time. Hooray! Here’s how the researchers came to this conclusion:

  1. A randomized controlled trial was done in Colorado from 2013-2016 and included 1093 pregnant moms. Moms were evaluated for vaccine-hesitancy (about 14% of moms were hesitant). The population was fairly affluent (>50% have family income >$80,000/yr) and very educated (>80% of moms had college education or more) and internet savvy (>60% said they used the internet every week or health info).
  2. These pregnant moms were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups who would receive:
    1. A website with vaccine information and social media components
    2. Just the website with vaccine information
    3. Usual care with neither a website nor social media information
  3. Researchers followed up on the infants’ shots 200 days after birth. They also evaluated for the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) shot given around a year of age. The proportion of infants up-to-date on their vaccines for the first 200 days:
    1. 92.5%– babies with mom’s who received website + social information
    2. 91.3% – babies with mom’s who received just the website
    3. 86.6%  – babies with mom’s who received usual care

A victory! In addition, the babies got their MMR vaccinations at impressive rates, too (95%, 95%, and 92% in respective groups). Although I’d say all groups of these moms and babies did a good job keeping their infants up-to-date, moms with more access to education, starting while still pregnant, did the best.

So go forth and keep spreading the positive word about vaccines, their safety, their science and their ability to keep our population healthy! I would be amiss if I did not give a few flu tips for this season, so here they are…

Read more (every year) on Seattle Mama Doc. Or follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, please!

10 Things To Know About Flu Vaccination In 2017-2018:

1. All Children Over 6 Months: The flu vaccine should be given to everyone 6 months and older. Babies and young children (6 months to 8 years) who have never had a flu shot will need 2 doses of the vaccine, given at least 4 weeks apart.

2. Pregnant Moms High Risk: Flu vaccine should be given to all women who are pregnant, considering pregnancy, in the postpartum period or are breastfeeding during the flu season. The vaccine is safe to get at any time during pregnancy. Mom’s immune response (making antibodies to the virus) are passed onto the baby in the final stages of pregnancy and protect newborns too young to get the shot. A double win!

3. Only The Shot: This year, like last year, the nasal flu spray is not recommended because data showed that it was less effective in protecting children and their families from the most common strains of flu circulating.

4. Timing: Get your vaccine now! Influenza peaks in early winter typically but of anything that’s predictable, it’s that influenza is unpredictable. Being immunized 2 weeks prior to an exposure is the best way to be protected. Most doctors and nurses and hospital workers will all have their vaccine in September and October.

5. Children With Egg Allergies: are OK to get the shot and do not need to go to an allergist to get the vaccine.

6. Flu Shot Can’t Cause Influenza: The flu shot doesn’t cause flu infection. The shot is not a live virus vaccine, it’s an inactivated vaccine, and it can’t replicate in the body.

7. Lots Of Vaccine Available: Flu shots will likely be at your pediatrician’s office soon. There will be about 150 to 166 million doses of the vaccine produced.

8. Side Effects: most commonly are pain in the arm or leg at the injection site. About 10-30% of children under age 2 years will get a fever whereas fever is rare after flu shots in older children and adults.

9. Thimerosal: is a preservative used in multi-dose vaccines like influenza. There are thimerosal-free formulations, as well, if you’re concerned about the preservative. Thimerosal has never been shown to cause health problems.

10. You Don’t Want Influenza, Get The Shot: Families, in my experience, who have experienced influenza in their home always get the flu shot thereafter! On average, most years the vaccines anywhere from about 50 to 60% effective. Some people feel it’s not good enough — but remember if you don’t get the vaccine you have absolutely zero added protection when exposed.