FAQ: Episode 1 – Dr. Harriet Hall

Podcast Beyond Belief, our new freethought parenting podcast, features a segment called “The FAQ”, where we answer your science-based questions via qualified experts. Dr. Harriet Hall was kind enough to answer Laurie Tarr’s curious queries about late season flu vaccine…

Back in the fall, people stood in long lines to get H1N1 flu shots, and serum was in short supply. Now it is late February, and serum is readily available, but flu season only lasts until April. If you still haven’t been immunized, is it important to get an H1N1 flu shot now? What about a seasonal flu shot? Is it “too late”?

It’s not too late to get either the H1N1 or the seasonal shots. Flu is still active and the season is far from over. Three more children died of flu last week in the US: two of these deaths were associated with laboratory confirmed 2009 H1N1, and one death was associated with an influenza A virus for which the subtype was undetermined.

If your child comes down with the flu, should the rest of the family hurry to get immunized if they aren’t already, or will the shot not “kick in” until weeks later?

“It’s still useful to get vaccinated after being exposed to the flu, as you might not catch it that time. Depending on how soon after the exposure, receiving the flu shot can lessen the symptoms a little bit.” http://www.childrenshospital.org/newsroom/Site1339/mainpageS1339P351sublevel466.html

If you have had the flu already this season, should you still consider getting the vaccines?

If you’ve already had the flu you’ve only had one type of flu and are still susceptible to other strains. And you probably don’t know for sure which strain you had, so it makes sense to consider getting both shots.

What is on the horizon for next flu season? Will H1N1 continue to be such a threat? Can they combine the vaccines in to one shot?

There is no way to predict what will happen in the next flu season. There should be only one shot next year. Every year the experts try to develop a seasonal flu shot with the strains they think are most likely to spread. This year the H1N1 outbreak occurred too late to incorporate it into the seasonal mixture. If it had shown up in Mexico a couple of months earlier, it would have made it into the regular vaccine and there would have been only one shot.

Thanks to Dr. Harriet Hall for taking the time to share her expertise!

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3 Responses to FAQ: Episode 1 – Dr. Harriet Hall

  1. Gus says:

    Where can I find this podcast? It’s not on iTunes that I can see.

  2. Ticktock says:

    We are currently under review before we’re officially admitted into the itunes store. You can check our feed here… http://foundationbeyondbelief.org/fbbpodcast/

  3. Adam E says:

    Hey guys,

    I’m listening to your podcast right now and you’re discussing how teenagers underestimate their chance of surviving to the next year. I just thought I’d add some insight to that. I’m 23 years old now – not *too* far away from my own childhood, and I remember absolutely feeling that way in my very early teens. I wouldn’t be so quick to write off the idea that maybe teens just don’t understand the concepts of statistical chance (though I think that’s definitely plausible).

    When I was 12, I remember being absolutely convinced I was afflicted with cancer – so terrified that I made my parents take me to the doctor. At 13, it was getting close to the year 2000, and I remember being be absolutely certain that the Y2K bug would shut down the world, and mass chaos would ensue. Of course, as an adult I look back and think how silly both of these things are – but as a kid, they felt like very real, immediate, serious threats on my life.

    I think the study is very much on the mark. My suspicion is that it doesn’t have to do with kids not understanding statistical chance – I think it’s more of their emotions totally misunderstanding the information that’s given to them. When I was 12, I loved biking and Lance Armstrong was my hero – that was around the same time he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and self-examinations and prevention was all over the news. When I was 13, my dad was an IT professional and spent insane amounts of overtime preparing computers for the Y2K bug, and that too was all over the news. Plus, I was just afraid of the future (and high school) in general, so the idea of not living for very much longer was paradoxically comforting.

    Once I entered High School, these ridiculous types of fear pretty quickly subsided. I can’t help but wonder if my brain just wasn’t capable of handing that type of information yet. As my brain physically developed, I grew in my ability to rationally assess threats – and my expectations of surviving the future became far more realistic.

    Anyway, maybe I’m totally off the mark, but I definitely think that study has some real merit – and, perhaps, some implications for how parents raise their teens in the real world.

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