Our featured Expert Mommy is Cara Natterson is a mom of two, a Board certified pediatrician and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics who has treated thousands of children in her private practice. Her latest book Dangerous or Safe? hits bookshelves TODAY. Cara has appeared as a pediatric and parenting expert on television shows like Today and CNN and today she is talking to us about H1N1 as well as child vaccinations.
Q: What do you foresee being the biggest health risk children will face this fall?
A: Probably H1N1 (“swine”) flu. But that’s not because it will cause devastation—most health experts anticipate that this flu will be similar to (or even milder than) regular seasonal flu. The reason I think it is going to cause problems is that H1N1 will likely spread throughout schools, causing school closures. Parents will need to find something to do with their kids during the day because it is plausible that even well kids will need to be home for a little while. When 1 parent can stay at home, this doesn’t present a huge problem; but when both parents work there is now the issue of missed days, oftentimes with financial implications, and depending upon how widespread this becomes also the possibility of short-term decreased productivity for our country as a whole.
Q: What should we do to protect children from H1N1 and other flu strands?
A: Teach basic hygiene: hand washing, hand washing, hand washing. I love that the Department of Health and Human Services is teaming up with Elmo to send a message to the youngest audience. We also have to get better about staying home when sick. Again, this is an issue of pragmatism: if both parents work, sometimes it seems impossible to have 1 stay home with a sick child. But that sick child will undoubtedly pass the infection on to several others because the virus spreads when we touch our mouth or nose or eyes and then a doorknob or a pencil or a desk. Sending a sick child to school only passes the dilemma onto another family a few days later.
Q: As a mother of two young children will you give your kids the Swine Flu vaccination?
A: I don’t even know if they will qualify to get the new vaccine. There is talk that the number of doses may be quite limited, and if this is the case then initially only very young children (under 4) and older children with chronic medical issues will have access. While it is anticipated that there will eventually be enough doses for everyone who wants one, the priority groups will get it first. My kids don’t fit into either of these categories. I did, however, already give my kids their seasonal flu vaccine—some 2 months earlier than usual. I did this to leave the option for H1N1 vaccine open since it is unclear how many weeks need to pass between seasonal flu vaccine administration and H1N1 flu vaccine administration.
Q: Vaccinations have also become a hot button issue in recent years. Do you feel it’s safe to vaccinate your own children and have you found any connection with Autism or other health risks?
A: It is humbling to admit this, but you better bet that I thought about this issue differently once I had children. I re-read every study. And then I vaccinated my kids. I firmly believe that the diseases prevented with vaccination are far more dangerous than any of the vaccines. That said, I understand the concerns of parents and as a pediatrician I find it impossible not to hear them. A parent is her child’s best advocate; when there are worries, we need to listen and help parents come to decisions about what to do. This requires a major time investment and lots of conversations—we are talking about a large number of vaccines given over several years, and each deserves a discussion.
Practical Mommy is Ria Sharon. Click the links for Practical Mommy’s recommendations for travel car seats, affordable and fun diaper bags (skip hop bag), and the best-selling crib brand, Da Vinci Crib.