She says she would like her children to naturally fight colds and flu and thus make their immune system stronger.
How do I convince her against this irrational thinking?
Parenting Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for parents, grandparents, nannies and others with a parenting role. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
It's possible your wife is mixing the Hygiene Hypothesis with vaccinations. They're unrelated; the Hygiene Hypothesis is related specifically to children getting a particular virus (RSV) before they are exposed to various bacteria that train their immune system to respond a certain way to a particular immune "switch". Vaccinations are unrelated to that.
If your wife is concerned with general immunity, as in immunity to things other than the flu, she shouldn't worry; the influenza vaccine preps your body for influenza, but does not affect immunity to other pathogens (for better or worse). And beyond that, the influenza vaccine is not aimed at all influenza strains - just the 4 or so most deadly, or at least the ones that year the CDC/etc. think are most dangerous. The "general" immune stimulation will be present one way or the other; plenty of other pathogens will be there, unless your child lives in a bubble.
The flu vaccine, moreover, is not primarily to protect your child. The flu vaccine is to protect society - and is particularly important in children because they are very effective spreaders of influenza. It's protecting your child's parents, your child's teachers, your child's grandparents - in addition to protecting your child.
It's not unreasonable to think that immunity from a vaccine and immunity from a pathogen might be different, and might have different impacts on future immunity. Immune memory develops in many different ways with many different stimuli, and cross-linkage in particular can make a big difference in the duration of immune memory. Fortunately, there was a study of exactly this; they found that people who had yearly flu vaccines were more resistant to influenza than people who did not.
Further, even if the "wild" immune reaction were better than the vaccine at producing immunity to future influenza infections, that comes at a significant cost. A child who has influenza will lose several days of school, will lose weight, will spend days or weeks fighting off influenza instead of growing - see this article on growth failure from repeated infection for an extreme example.
and thus make their immune system stronger
But that's exactly what vaccination does! It injects (weakened) viruses together with an adjuvant (which puts the immune system on high alert) to trigger an immune reaction and train the immune system in fighting off the virus! Giving the immune system a workout is what vaccination is all about!
However, in contrast to a real infection, the workout is safe. Because the virus is weakened, it will do little damage until the immune system gets the upper hand, and therefore inflicts less suffering, and doesn't risk permanent injury or even death (yes, influenza can kill. It's doesn't usually, but as Wikipedia puts it:
In a typical year, 5–15% of the population contracts influenza. There are 3–5 million severe cases annually, with up to 650,000 deaths globally each year. Deaths most commonly occur in high risk groups, including young children, the elderly, and people with chronic health conditions.
In summary, vaccination is a much safer way to exercise the human immune system than infection with a live virus. And it's similarly effective.
I have family members that are also against vaccines.
I've seen some answers counteract her concern with facts. But sometime people can be less worried about technical details and more weary of the medical profession in general. They may have had bad experiences in the past, or their parents have and this has been a concern for them.
What I recommend - and what worked for my family member - is I encouraged them to get to know a local doctor or nurse. And instead of answering all their questions myself, or debating the facts with them, we go to see the nurse (who gives the injections/does the child checkups), and we ask her the questions.
It makes the situation much easier when you are not the one supplying the answers, but someone trusted in the community. A person who has experience with dealing with these kinds of concerns, who they can see in real life who isn't some part of a 'conspiracy' but has their own family and vaccinated their own children and who has your best interests in mind.
We had a very frank discussion with our GP about my family member's concerns over the medical profession, and my GP was able to help develop a rapport that helped us eventually get to the point where now the family member sees this GP regularly (and trusts only them).
This way, whenever your wife has a question, you can say "let's go ask nurse/doctor that". And you can avoid the conflict, and she can get good, solid information (not from google) from a person in real life who knows what they are talking about.
How do I convince her against this irrational thinking?
This is an unhelpful attitude.
Setting up an issue like vaccines as combative between co-parents is really immature and in doing so you are placing the well being of your children at risk. Trying to prove "I am right" particularly because "my wife is irrational" turns it into a power struggle where now vaccination is going to be demoralizing for her. The smug, gloating face of the husband ushering the child into the exam room.
Such a microcosm of "red vs blue" vaccine conversation in the US.
There is a general communications issue that is beyond the scope of this thread. If you are going to be like that, please do not be sullying the name of vaccines.
At this point you should ask her, "How do you feel when we talk about vaccines? What else do you think it's related to in our relationship?"
But for the sake of argument let's go back in time before all the baggage got piled on. What could have been said?
Here is some general info from CDC on this subject for concerned parents: Making the Vaccine Decision: Common Concerns
There are still going to be questions. I would be interested to know, who does she talk to or listen to about this? No eye rolling or other body language please. What sorts of things has she heard? A lot of people have vague urban legends. "Some people got HPV vaccine then got really sick" They are generally unfalsifiable. Sometimes it's something specific about a known person, and contradicting it basically means calling her friend a liar.
Snopes.com has a search for urban legends which they have been fact checking for many years so if there is a specific story, sometimes you can find it there. But be careful not to drag this attitude in because you can make it worse even if you are right. Maybe before you even talk about this together, you should just be seen looking at this website and learning stuff. It's a fun website. :)
The question about who is she talking to is not academic. Since you heopfully have some knowledge of her friends and family, you could kindly ask someone who you are both on good terms with to tell her that they got their kids vaccinated. Peer pressure can be powerful especially if it was a strong motivation for the initial concerns.
It is established fairly well that a strong recommendation from a health care provider with whom there is a good rapport is also influential. Even if you have a general idea the Dr is in favor, you should ask the Dr with your wife, "Can you tell us what you think about giving the flu shot to children? What are the risks?" Make an appointment just to talk about it you do not even need to bring the kids (if childcare is available).
Ames HM, Glenton C, Lewin S. Parents' and informal caregivers' views and experiences of communication about routine childhood vaccination: a synthesis of qualitative evidence. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Feb 7;2(2):CD011787. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD011787.pub2. PMID: 28169420; PMCID: PMC5461870.
Mohammed KA, Vivian E, Loux TM, Arnold LD. Factors Associated With Parents’ Intent to Vaccinate Adolescents for Human Papillomavirus: Findings From the 2014 National Immunization Survey–Teen. Prev Chronic Dis 2017;14:160314. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd14.160314external icon.
I would also like to note that the preceding has been a shallow and even facile analysis of the issues. While I always 100% recommend everyone get all the scheduled vaccines they can except in the extremely unusual case of true contraindication, there are a lot of reasons people choose otherwise. Anyone interested to learn one piece of this story as it regards Black Americans should read the classic Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington, and there was a really great interview with her recently on This Podcast Will Kill You.
Also I hope Dad is getting his flu shot every single year like clock work. 💉⏰ And you smile when you get the injection, showing your kids how it stings for little moment but you are so happy you got it because you will be more likely to stay healthy. And be in a great mood all day. Be the change.
For some people (not all!) a data-driven argument may be convincing.
Thus, the danger of flu to children is similar to that of COVID-19. Therefore, if you plan on getting the COVID-19 vaccine for your children, you should also get the flu shot.
The flu season is shorter than the period reported on for COVID-19, so if we adjust for the time period covered, the danger may be even more similar.
Also note from the second link:
While any death in a child from a vaccine preventable illness is a tragedy, the number of pediatric flu deaths reported to CDC each season is likely an undercount. For example, even though the reported number of deaths during the 2017-2018 flu season was 188, CDC estimates the actual number was closer to 600. It is likely the actual number of children who died from flu during the 2019-2020 season is higher as well.
You may be getting the COVID-19 shots not because you are afraid of your children dying from COVID-19, but because of possible long-term effects of an infection ("long COVID"). If so: there are also long-term effects of the flu.
You may be getting the COVID-19 shots not because you are afraid of your children dying from COVID-19, but so they don't infect others, e.g., grandparents. If so: the same reasoning applies to the flu.
Finally, per the second link:
CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccine, especially children who are younger than 5 years of age or children of any age who have a high risk medical condition, because they are more likely to develop serious flu complications that can lead to hospitalization and death. Getting vaccinated has been shown to reduce flu illnesses, doctor’s visits, missed school days, and reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalization and death in children.