A dose of regret: Mother now more wary than ever about flu shots
Grand Junction mother Kara Bocanegra decided this year to have her four children vaccinated against the H1N1 virus.
In years past, Bocanegra was wary of having her children vaccinated for the flu, not wanting to introduce any more vaccines to their systems. But she relented this year in response to the increased awareness of H1N1 and the flu.
However, because of a possible severe reaction to the H1N1 vaccine in her 9-year-old son, Dylan, Bocanegra won’t try to have her children vaccinated against the flu in the future, she said.
“It just makes me feel horribly guilty for making that decision,” Bocanegra said.
According to Bocanegra, Dylan received the flu mist vaccine for H1N1 virus on Nov. 20. Five days later, Dylan complained of an earache, and on Thanksgiving one side of his face began puffing up, and he couldn’t move his cheeks or eyebrows.
Dylan’s pediatrician diagnosed Bell’s palsy, but could not determine whether the condition was caused by a vaccine. Dylan has never had a reaction to other vaccines, Bocanegra said.
“We can’t draw any links or conclusions and connect that to the H1N1 vaccine,” said Paula Anderson, marketing director for Primary Care Partners and Western Colorado Pediatric Associates, where Dylan received the H1N1 vaccine.
Dylan’s pediatrician told Bocanegra that her son’s case is unusual and would be referred to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Bell’s palsy is a common neurological disorder that includes paralysis of the facial nerves and results in the inability to control facial muscles on one side of the face. The onset can be sudden, but the condition is not considered a serious health threat.
Bell’s palsy has been linked to Lyme disease, ear infection, meningitis, syphilis, rubella, mumps, chicken pox and Epstein-Barr, the virus that causes mononucleosis.
Less than 10 percent of people who develop Bell’s palsy experience permanent facial deformity. The condition is more common in people aged 15 to 45 than in young children.
There is no apparent cause for Bell’s palsy, said Dr. Michael Aduddell, medical director of the Mesa County Health Department. One theory is Bell’s palsy may be the result of either viral or a bacterial infection, and some families may be predisposed to the condition, he said.
The baseline for people contracting Bell’s palsy is 25 per 100,000 people per year, which means the Grand Valley likely sees some cases of it each year, Aduddell said.
In his more than 20 years at the department, Aduddell does not recall any reports of Bell’s palsy from patients after receiving a flu vaccine, including the vaccine for H1N1. If there were any such cases, he might not even hear about it. Physicians are not required to report that information to the Health Department; they could report straight to the CDC.
Health officials are monitoring how the H1N1 vaccine is affecting specific groups such as pregnant women, but the overall results are not indicating that people are showing adverse reactions to it, he said.
(“If residents) are having severe reactions, we do want it reported,” Aduddell said.
There are no current reports linking the H1N1 vaccine and Bell’s palsy, according to the CDC.
The only link between a flu-related vaccine and Bell’s palsy dates back to October 2000 when 46 people received a newly-licensed nasal influenza vaccine in Switzerland, according to the CDC.
Because of that event, researchers conducted a case study between vaccinated and nonvaccinated people to determine if there is a link between the influenza vaccine and Bell’s palsy, according to the CDC.
In addition, researchers identified people with Bell’s palsy who are part of HMOs and will give permission for their medical records to be reviewed to assess exposure from influenza vaccines and other types of vaccines. Final analysis of the study is complete, and the publication of the study is under way, the CDC reports.
In 1976, a vaccination for an early form of the swine flu was associated with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, but since then flu vaccinations have had no clear link to the disease, the CDC reports.
Thankfully, Dylan’s face is returning to normal, and it doesn’t appear he will be have any permanent facial paralysis, Bocanegra said.
Still, Bocanegra doesn’t plan to take her children to get the recommended second round of H1N1 vaccine.
“I wouldn’t want to say for any other family, but for my family, no more,” she said.