Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pregnancy Week 17: Flu shot drama

I have been hearing a lot about how pregnant women should receive the flu shot, as they are considered "high risk" since their immune systems are lowered (interesting enough, I recently read the reason the immune system lowers is to prevent it from attacking the developing baby--makes getting a cold seem more noble!). I've read about it on the internet, and my OB recommended it. Of course, since there is all this debate out there about mercury in shots for children, I figure there ought to be for pregnant women who are carrying children, as well.

My friend, Laurie, helps me research it a little and finds that there are basically 3 types of flu shots:
1) No thimerosal (the mercury-based preservative). This is what they give to children now.
2) Trace amount of thimerosal, but considered to be negligible.
3) A larger amount of thimerosal (probably the cheapest, given out at clinics, like CVS etc).

So, I decide I will get a flu shot as long as it is thimerosal-free, or contains only trace amounts. I call my doctor's office and the woman on the phone has no idea what kind of flu shot they have at their office. She says I can make an appointment and ask the doctor. I decide chances are decent that they'll have one of the better shots (this is the Westchester Medical Group, after all--filled with wealthy suburban moms who must be as concerned as I am), so I don't bother trying to speak to a doctor on the phone ahead of time, and simply to go my appointment.

Once in the exam room, I tell the nurse what I'm looking for. Immediately, she says, "We just have the regular shots."

"You don't even have the trace amount one?"

"No. And it's gonna take you a long time to get one of those. Do you wanna talk to the doctor anyway?"

"Yes," I sigh. Might as well.

The doctor enters and I tell him I'm pregnant, want the flu shot, but don't want the full amount of thimerosal in the shot.

And here begins his convincing/bullying:

He starts out by giving me his opinion based on government research. "There is nothing wrong with the flu shot. It's perfectly safe for pregnant women."

I tell him my opinion. "Well, given the debate about mercury in shots, and since I'm pregnant, I'd just rather not take that chance. If it were just me, I wouldn't care, but since I have a growing baby, I'd like the mercury-free shot."

Clearly, I am not responsive to pure facts, so he tries another approach. "Do you eat fish?"

"Not the kind that has mercury in it, not while I'm pregnant. No. And do you know how much mercury is in one fish compared to how much is in a shot?" (I mean, hey, if it's the same amount, that's one thing, but if it's concentrated and 100x the amount, that's certainly another)

"No, I don't know the exact amount."

Mm hm.

He uses another comparison. "Well, do you walk down the street? You know you're inhaling exhaust and all kinds of metals then. Mercury is just another metal."

"That may be," I say. "But I can't do anything about the exhaust fumes in the air. I can do something about this shot, so why not do the least risky thing, since I have a choice?"

He takes another angle. "Regardless, your body is very well equipped to get rid of toxins. Very little of it will actually stay in you or reach the fetus."

"Maybe, but I'd still rather put in as few toxins as possible if I have the choice."

He argues with me a little bit more and seems a bit annoyed with me. I'm sure he is hoping I will break down, get the shot, and make this easier on all of us. And I can see how some people might, since he is quite the badger.

Finally, I take one for the team and label myself something I don't believe I am, "Look. Call me a crazy pregnant woman, but I want the mercury-free or trace amount of mercury shot. Can you order it for me, or tell me somewhere else I can get it?"

Then he concedes. "Well, I guess pregnant women all have their own worries. I can order it for you."

So I take the little condescending remark and smile. "I really appreciate it."

I walk out to the waiting room, he tells the receptionist to refund my copay since he was not able to help me (I do appreciate this, because $20 for an argument does not seem right), then a minute later, he returns. He tells me the shot is back-ordered and he doesn't know when it'll be in. He suggests I check in the next week. I thank him and receive my $20 refund.

So now, 2 weeks have passed and still no mercury-free flu shot. I will call again today or tomorrow to check in.

I really wonder why they are so in demand, I wonder why they even make them at all, if there is no purpose for having these shots mercury-free? I wonder...

When I come home and tell Mike what happened, he says, "Thank you for protecting our baby!" and hugs me.

And he's not even a "crazy pregnant woman." :)


Monsoon Mama said...

uggg, this kind of thing is really hard. GOOD FOR YOU for advocating for yourself and for not being bullied by the doctor! it's amazing how medical professionals freak out by empowered and informed patients. it's scary how much toxic crap there is out there. i was really worried about that stuff when i was pregnant (although i got a flu shot without even asking about thimerosol-- oops) and when anand was tiny, but as he'd gotten older, i've gotten WAY more laidback, mainly because i just can't prevent him from eating dirt or sticking his hands in his mouth after he's crawled all over the sidewalk. yuck! oh well; i guess that stuff is good for his immune system. but the bottom line is to trust your gut and advocate for yourself, so you GO, mama!

BabyDad said...

We here at my practice only give the mercury-free vaccine to pregnant women. We have plenty, no back orders... saves the argument from all the troublesome, empowered patients! :)

Julie said...

I am not a fan of any vaccines... just plenty of rest, fresh air, vitamins, prayer, hand washing, nose blowing (or use of a netti pot... ewww) and good nutrition. :)

Kat said...

What about the flu mist? That is the one they squirt in your nose...grace and I just got that this past week. It is a live vaccine, so I am not sure if they give that one to pregnant women? But, the reason I got it is because I have a bad reaction to the shot and the Mist supposedly doesn't have all the "added stuff." Anyway, I agree with everyone here...good for you for standing your ground and not letting the doctor bully you! You have the right to make your own informed decision. You are a great mom already!

Tara M said...

That is great you automatically would give out the mercury-free shot, Ben--I don't know why more places don't do that. Unfortunately, my OB does not give out the shot and wasn't helpful in knowing where else I could go (and just assured me also that the regular shot was fine).

Yes, I totally agree, Div! I know I'm going to be overly cautious at first, but I also do want to try to be cool about dirt etc. I know "they" say it's a great thing for a baby to have a dog in the house growing up bc the dog does bring in germs and exposes the baby to them, which helps build the immune system.

And ultimately, it would be great, as you say, Julie, to just avoid toxins/shots in general, unless really necessary. I know they have made a lot of advances in taking out mercury for babies'/toddlers' shots, but we still need to become more educated on all that.

I have heard of that nasal spray flu thing, Kat--but I am pretty sure my doc office would not be able to get that any easier. I don't know if that's ok for pregnant women, but I did hear it is mercury-free, as you say, so it could be an alternative.

I talked to the medical assistant twice this week and she assures me it ought to be in by Fri NEXT week, so to make an appointment for fri, and confirm on thurs. So we'll see. I guess I'll try that.

And as some people have told me, worse comes to worst, I don't get the shot, and I do get the flu, and then I'll still get the "vaccine" the old fashioned way (by getting the virus)--right?

Well, thank you for all your support, gang!!

Mike said...

Fight the power! And thanks again for protecting our little guy/girl. :) Tara, you're the best.

Tara M said...

Thanks Mike, et al! My update--they did get the mercury-free flu shot in this week, so I'm going in Friday for my shot.

btw--one of my friends, who is pregnant, went to get the flu shot (her doc recommended it also) at work, and she had to fill out a form and say if she were pregnant or not. And when she said she was pregnant, they wouldn't give her the shot.

So obviously, they believe there could be at least a potential for law suit over the mercury shots, which sort of implies there is a basis for that potential law suit. If they are 100% confident there is no risk in giving pregnant women the mercury/thimerosol shots, then why would they be worried about a law suit? And why would the technician not give it at the clinic to a pregnant woman?

I wish my docs would just acknowledge the possible risk and then leave the choice up to the patient. I'm sure some people would deem the risk small enough that they'd take the regular shot, but there are probably a lot who would not take that risk, if informed. And I feel the doctors should encourage patients to be informed, not badger them when they find out they are informed.