When my second baby was three weeks old, she caught what I thought was a little cold.
I hated seeing her sick, of course, but I actually wasn’t all that worried; kids get colds, I thought. She’ll be fine by morning.
The next morning Noa still had a fever, so we took her to our family doctor, ‘just to be safe.’ I completely expected him to prescribe some baby Panadol and send us on our way, but his concerned expression said otherwise: “I think you should pop up to the hospital,” he said.
Off we went to the emergency room, where we were quickly spirited past the two-dozen injured souls waiting to be seen.
Things suddenly turned real. The doctor gently but immediately took my baby from my arms and said, “We have to do some tests, including a lumbar puncture, ultrasound, x-rays and ECG. Your little one is very sick and we need to find out why.”
Four days, five doctors, dozens of tests, virtually no sleep and one very unhappy baby later, we had a diagnosis: viral meningitis caused by enterovirus.
Thankfully, she made a full recovery and she’s now a happy, healthy, one-year-old ball of energy.
But that experience was terrifying. Surreal.
Despite the doctor telling me over and over, “This is not your fault,” I couldn’t help but blame myself. Did I not wash my hands enough? Fail to sterilise her dummies? As parents we’re meant to protect our babies and I felt like I’d failed her.
Driving home from the hospital, my husband asked when she was due for her first vaccinations. “Not ‘til she’s two months old,” I said. “But you couldn’t vaccinate against this, anyway.”
Little did I realise that Noa had actually missed her first vaccination; I could have had the influenza shot when I was pregnant with her. Again, it wouldn’t have protected her against the specific illness she had, but it could have given us both immunity against the flu – me for around a year, and Noa until she was roughly six months old.
I didn’t even think to get the flu shot when I was pregnant. I viewed it as being for immunosuppressed people and (duh!) I didn’t identify as being one of them.
As with most vaccinations, there are all sorts of misconceptions out there about the flu vaccine, so I chatted with Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director of the Communicable Diseases at the NSW Ministry of Health, to clear up a few myths.
Myth #1: Getting the flu vaccination gives you a live dose of the virus and can actually make you sick.
“No, that’s not true,” Vicky Sheppeard says.
“The flu vaccine used in Australia is ‘inactivated’. That means the virus has been killed and there are just remnants contained in the vaccine to stimulate immunity.”
“At worst, you could get a few mild flu-like symptoms. However, only one in ten adults who receive the influenza vaccine experience these side effects.”
Myth #2: The influenza vaccine only protects you from one strain of the virus, so there’s no point in getting it, as you could still get the flu.
“Influenza vaccination is the single most effective way to avoid getting the flu.” Vicky Sheppeard says.