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H1N1 vaccination debate still a hot issue for parents, babysitters

Parents contemplate the necessity of swine flu vaccination for their child's caregiver.

Parents will do anything to keep their child safe from harm - whether it’s slathering on sunscreen in the summer, switching to organic foods or walking them to school even if it’s just a mile away.

Now many parents are opening their eyes to another potential safety hazard for their children - the health of their child’s caregiver.

The H1N1 - or swine flu - hysteria may seem to have lost its luster in the media spotlight for more pressing current events, but in parent and childcare provider circles it’s still a hot button issue. The debate divides parents and caregivers, such as nannies and babysitters, into “alarmist” versus “aversion” camps; sometimes costing caregivers a potential job based upon where they stand.

The “great flu pandemic of 2009″ has declined in the U.S. as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that visits to doctors for influenza-like illness have decreased nationally. But doctors with the World Health Organization aren’t ruling out the possibility of swine flu’s return.

“We see that activity is declining, or has declined, but we also continue to see in these areas a transmission of the virus, so it has not disappeared, and it is has not gone back to baseline,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda of the World Health Organization in a statement on Forbes magazine’s “The Science Business” blog. “Based on the situation, our current assessment is that it remains too early to say that the pandemic is over.”

Mom blogs have been abuzz over the swine flu vaccine debate since the pandemic peaked in October 2009. The popular blog “5 Minutes for Mom” advocates parents vaccinate their kids against H1N1 in a recent post on December 29, citing that swine flu could make a return appearance this winter. But natural parenting advocates are concerned about excessive inoculation and the potential side effects for children who receive the vaccine.

The CDC recommends that certain populations get vaccinated for the H1N1 virus based on their risk of contracting or spreading the disease - and that includes caregivers for children under six months of age. Nannies and babysitters can work anywhere from two days to 40 hours or more a week with children - increasing the threat of contraction to young children with weaker immune systems.

Candi Wingate is CEO of, one of the largest nanny-in-family databases serving 500,000 families in the U.S. and Canada. Last month, Wingate conducted an Internet-based survey on the Nannies4Hire blog asking if parents are requiring their nanny to get vaccinated for H1N1. To her surprise, respondents were split 50/50 on the topic.

“We found that some families are determined to require their nanny or babysitter get vaccinated … then there are families that will not even bring up the vaccination subject with their childcare provider,” said Wingate, whose website allows families to search for pre-screened nannies in their area by zip code. “Sometimes parents feel uncomfortable bringing up the topic, and other times, for instance, I know a nanny who didn’t get a job because she didn’t want to get vaccinated.”

Childcare providers divided on whether to inoculate for a job

Due to the economy, Wingate has seen an influx of people registering on her website looking for nanny and babysitting jobs, with some even inquiring about summer positions.

But when it comes to securing a job, how far will childcare providers go when it comes to their own health and personal beliefs about vaccinations?

UTC resident Mindy Levy has been caring for children for over 15 years and says there’s no question when it comes to getting vaccinated for a job - she’s for it.

“It is my responsibility to take excellent care of myself for the well-being of the children I care for, and getting the seasonal flu shot and the H1N1 vaccine is one way of doing that,” said the 30-year-old mother, who has asked her own family to get inoculated before visiting her 5-month-old son.

Levy is all about preventative care when it comes to the health of her child and the children she looks after. She follows the rules when it comes to vaccinations and safety, getting her tuberculosis shot every two years and keeping her CPR and First Aid certifications current.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the H1N1 vaccine is recommended for nannies in the following situations:

  • Nannies of children who are under six months of age;
  • Nannies of children of any age who have compromised immune systems or chronic health conditions;
  • Nannies who are 24 years of age or younger; and
  • Nannies of any age who have compromised immune systems, chronic health conditions, or who are pregnant.
San Diego: Though the H1N1 hysteria has calmed in recent months, parents and caregivers are still split on the decision to vaccinate.  (AP photo/Gregory Bull)

Though the H1N1 hysteria has calmed in recent months, parents and caregivers are still split on the decision to vaccinate. (AP photo/Gregory Bull)

Medical professionals say people with influenza can potentially infect others beginning one day before they show symptoms and up to five days after becoming sick. In a childcare situation, a nanny could be sick and interacting with children before showing any symptoms.

“Getting the shot offers a childcare provider like me an advantage over other candidates,” said Levy. “If I was going to hire a nanny, I would consider hiring someone who had the shot over another person. It’s a sign of responsibility.”

Wingate says if nanny candidates are eager to land a position, they will do what’s needed to meet as many of the family’s requirements as possible.

“Many families feel vaccination is important for those in direct contact with their children, so nannies and babysitters that are willing to do so have a clear advantage in booking jobs,” said Wingate.

Ann Hill is a former postpartum doula who is adamantly opposed to vaccinating herself. Her stance on the vaccination issue has even affected her job prospects.

“I went on an interview with a couple who I was recommended to by a friend who had older babies and the job suited me well,” said the 53-year-old Carmel Valley resident. “The family wanted to know if I would get the H1N1 shot and I declined because I don’t feel like enough study went into this vaccine. There was somewhat of a false panic about swine flu.”

Hill is unsure if declining to get the shot cost her the job, but she says she is fortunate to be in a financial position to decline work over her aversion to immunizations.

“I don’t believe in flu shots,” she said. “In the six years that I worked as a postpartum doula, I got the flu shot once and I was sicker that year than I have ever been.”

Approaching your child’s caregiver about the H1N1 vaccine

It may be easy for parents to talk to their nanny or babysitter about the rules for watching their children - for example, what time to put the children down or what the kids can or can’t watch on TV - but broaching the subject of the H1N1 vaccination requires a more personal conversation.

Wingate offers some tips for parents to bring up the topic of vaccination with their child’s caregiver:

  • Start by mentioning how H1N1 is a life-threatening condition and a serious risk to your child and yourselves. You can reference media reports on the number of confirmed cases and the number of deaths.
  • Talk about your duty as a parent to protect your child from foreseeable hazards.
  • Mention how the H1N1 vaccine can also be given as a spray in the nose to allay any needle-related fears.
  • Ask (or require) the caregiver to get an H1N1 shot. You can even offer to make the appointment with an area clinic, or in some cases, offer to pay the caregiver for the time spent getting the vaccination (some states will require this). Many families even offer to pay for the shot.
  • Be empathetic to caregiver concerns on the matter, but stand your ground. If there’s an area in which you can compromise yet still achieve your objective of having your caregiver get vaccinated, then compromise may be the best way to go.

Ursula Koenig is a stay-at-home mom in La Mesa who didn’t feel it was necessary to bring up the subject of vaccinations with the nanny of her 21-month-old son. She feels H1N1 was presented in a fearful way and she tries not to panic over the topic. Koenig says her nanny is clean, never gets colds and is generally a healthy person so she doesn’t require her to get vaccinated.

“I’ve discussed these shots with everyone and our pediatrician agrees, we have decided to not get any flu shots for ourselves or our son,” said Koenig, who adds that her son is hardly ever sick aside from the occasional ear infection. “We make different choices to minimize the chances of contraction for us or our son. Our exposure to large groups of people is limited and my son doesn’t go to daycare or to indoor play centers.”

However, Koenig says if her nanny was watching multiple children throughout the week and then coming into her home, she might change her tune on the shot debate.

If parents and their childcare provider agree to disagree on the H1N1 vaccination issue, offers alternative ways to minimize the risk of transmitting the disease in the home.

  • Require children wash their hands with soap and warm water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when a sink isn’t readily available.
  • Always disinfect surfaces that children touch regularly (computer keyboards, door knobs, phones, etc.).
  • Do not touch the mouth, eyes or nose unless your hands are clean. Make sure children cover their nose when they sneeze or tell them to sneeze into their arm.
  • Avoid crowds or playgrounds where people are coughing or sneezing. Use the “six foot rule” when a sick person is around.
  • Keep children inside at the first signs of a cold and ask that their caregiver stay home if they feel under the weather.

Getting vaccinated against H1N1 is a personal issue that should be discussed openly between parents and their childcare provider. For more information on the swine flu vaccine, visit the CDC’s H1N1 flu Web site.