Flu vaccines matter because the virus still kills people like my sister

Headshot of Eric Stein

This op-ed by Eric Stein first appeared on The Tennessean. Read more here

In 2002, my 4-year-old sister’s heart stopped beating due to viral myocarditis brought on by an influenza relapse.

My older sister Jessica and I caught a virus that was spreading through our preschool, and, as many kids do, we were kept home for a few days to recover.Once the symptoms subsided, we returned to everyday life and began seeing friends again. Jessica even attended a classmate’s birthday party.

After several days, Jessica developed a mild fever, started vomiting and was kept home from school again. My parents were told she had relapsed from her previous illness and wouldn’t need to see a doctor, but soon she began experiencing labored breathing, and her feet grew cold.

Jessica was taken to the emergency room, saw a pediatric cardiologist, and was put through testing. The doctors told us that her heart was slightly enlarged but still strong, and my parents were allowed back into her hospital room; however, Jessica’s heart stopped beating a few moments later, and she could not be revived.

This tragedy sparked the need for action within my family. In 2004, we began advocating for flu vaccinations and awareness as one of the founding families in Families Fighting Flu, a national nonprofit dedicated to protecting children, families and communities against the flu, one of the deadliest vaccine-preventable diseases in America.

Flu vaccines have a 70-year-plus track record

In an age when we are battling several serious, contagious diseases, getting vaccinated is more important than ever. If you’re concerned about the safety of the vaccinations, find solace in knowing that flu vaccines have been in use since 1945 with good safety records. They also go through years of research and clinical trials before making them available to the public.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, between Dec. 4 and Dec. 10, 36,364 patients were seen, and 9.2% had influenza-like illnesses. Having seen the effects of a lack of vaccination firsthand, we know the risks are much more significant than we realize. This flu season, two pediatric influenza-related deaths have already been reported. Your vaccination contributes to slowing the spread and protecting children, so no parent or sibling must experience the loss of a child or sibling.

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You’ve got questions. That’s a good thing.

As parents, determining how best to protect our children can be overwhelming and confusing. We’re here to help.

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