3 Reasons to Take Your Au Pair for a Flu Shot

by cv harquail on October 14, 2009

We’re talking regular flu here, the annual kind, the kind that killed over 24,000 people in the US last winter. [ H1N1 coming up in the next post.] Sure, lots of the people who died were already weak from other illnesses. But many who died were healthy until they got influenza.

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You don’t have to die from influenza. Instead, you can just get really, really sick, and possibly infect other people who are less hardy than you.

Or, you can get an annual flu shot or the new flu mist.

Because a member of our immediate family is especially vulnerable to viruses, and because one child in our family has asthma, we have always required everyone in our household to get an annual flu shot– and that includes our au pairs. We prescreen our au pairs on their willingness to get an influenza vaccine. If a candidate says she would not be willing to get a flu shot, we don’t match with her. We’re that serious.

Some families, however, haven’t needed to be quite as alert about flu vaccines… You may not have thought to ask your au pair to get a vaccine, you may not have considered how to get her to a vaccination station, and you may not have considered paying the $15 to $45 that a flu vaccine costs. Well, on the advice of the CDC (Center for Disease Control), my pediatrician, and probably your pediatrician too, start thinking about getting everyone vaccinated.

Here are three reasons why you should get your au pair a flu shot.

1. Your Au Pair could get sick.

Having the flu sucks. It really does. When you get the flu, you are (as Heidi Klum would say) “ouwt”. For days. Maybe even weeks. Plus, you feel sick, really sick. Even after you “recover” you can feel weak and unsteady for another several days. Who wants to do that? Also, if your Au Pair gets sick, you will need to care for her. We often can’t care for ourselves when we are terribly ill, and we need someone to help us… and your au pair might need care from you.

2. Your Au Pair could infect your children and other people’s children.

Needless to say, this would be awful. Children are more susceptible, more vulnerable, and less likely to be able to tough their way through one or two weeks of illness. You don’t know who in your neighborhood, or school, or playgroup, has been vaccinated and you may not know whether someone is particularly vulnerable. Why put others at risk?

Of course, you should get your children (and yourself!) vaccinated against the flu. In most situations that vaccine will protect them. However, it is possible for the flu virus to mutate enough that the flu your au pair catches may not be the flu your kids are protected against. Why take the chance?

3. Your Au Pair could miss work.

In addition to caring about your au pair as a person and as a member of your extended family, she is also your employee. If she gets the flu, who’s going to care for your children? Do you and your partner get sick days? Do you have lots of vacation days you can use for emergency childcare? I don’t mean to sound heartless here, but covering for a sick au pair can be difficult, costly, and stressful.

Your au pair can avoid getting the flu, by getting a flu vaccine. Help her do that.

I don’t want to hear about people’s concerns about the flu vaccine. The shot won’t make you or anyone else sick with the flu. 99% of the concerns you’ll hear are myths, shared by the uninformed, because they are bored with conversations about the weather and that faux-celebrity Kate person. Check the CDC website or trustworthy websites for the scientific facts about flu vaccines and their safety.

As a sensible person, as a parent, and as a host parent, you are responsible for protecting your family as best you can. That means:

Take your Au Pair for a Flu Shot.

Coming up, posts on:
The H1N1 virus and why to get that vaccination too.
“My Au Pair refuses to get a vaccine. What should I do?”
“Why don’t the agencies have a policy about flu vaccines? After all, the au pairs are required to get malaria vaccines, so why not the flu?”

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Franzi October 14, 2009 at 2:35 pm

cv, do you know if the insurance would cover flu side effects? for some reason i have this voice in my head telling me that the regular insurance does not cover vaccines of any kind. maybe someone on this blog knows.

an AP could be hesitant not to get the flu shot because possible (even if unlikely) side effects would not be covered.

Mom23 October 14, 2009 at 3:29 pm

We have always given our au pairs the option of getting the flu shot (which we pay for). I have never felt comfortable mandating that au pair get the flu shot as a condition of working for us. I think with H1N1 though I will be a bit stronger in my suggesting that she get the shot.

PA au pair mom October 14, 2009 at 8:34 pm

I am a Nurse Practitioner so I vaccinate our au pair at my office.

Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid and some Walmarts are offering flu shots for as low as $25.

Calif Mom October 14, 2009 at 9:04 pm

Within the range of normal reactions, the worst side effects from a flu shot at the most are usually fever, headache, arm soreness, tiredness. Big-time side effects that would require medical care should certainly be covered by insurance. If your AP is organized enough to have the policy on hand, you could check, but having worked in healthcare for many moons, that sounds off base to me.

Our bigger problem is finding the seasonal flu shot these days. Suddenly everyone wants one. I managed to get them for everyone but me!

CV — right there with you on this post. I’ve been preaching at the bus stop. The average deaths per year from seasonal flu is about 36,000. Last year was a light year.

Flu shots have been “tested” for years, millions of doses, even in pregnant women.

Don’t believe the hysteria. If you don’t believe the news, or “government scientists”–who, by the way, for the most part are actually doctors like your trust pediatrician who happen to believe in the scientific process and clinical trials– anyway, if you’re still unsure, snopes.com and factcheck.org both have good, solid information.

And folks, even if you “never get sick”, you can help stop the spread and protect all those folks out there who can’t get the vaccine themselves because their immune systems aren’t strong enough to mount an adequate defense.

Data out today from CDC are showing that most of the KIDS who have died from H1N1 flu (76 kids have died so far since summer in the States) had underlying health problems, most often asthma. And the otherwise-healthy adults who died were folks with either unidentified or well-controlled health conditions, like asthma, or they smoked. They would not have been described before their illness as anything but ‘healthy’.

So even if you are opposed to the idea, can I leave you with this story from my pediatrician yesterday? We were in for a well-kid visit. I asked how things were going, b/c my pedi knows I work in healthcare. This usually stoic, thorough, reassuring, seen-it-all doctor was PO’d. I have never seen her this wound up. She had been calling around trying to find H1N1 vaccine for two kids in her practice. They are both school-age. Their mom had leukemia which is now, thank goodness, in remission. She has had a bone marrow transplant. Getting any kind of flu will kill her. She has two kids.

Ann from NE (New England) October 14, 2009 at 10:38 pm

I view basic health and safety of our family including AP as our primary mutual responsibility. Each year (3 years, 2 APs in total) that we’ve had au pairs I’ve required that they get the flu shot, which I pay for. All of our family members also get it.

I’ve also strongly encouraged them to get CPR training in their home country in their home language before they arrive here, and then mid-way through each AP’s stay I also paid for them each to get a refresher Red Cross CPR course here in English. (One I took together with my AP).

My one bit of advice (learned the hard way) re APs and regular (non-flu) immunizations would be to encourage them to get all the adult immunizations they possibly can in their home country. Either it will be for free for them or certainly lower cost than here. For two reasons:
* to take a university course here to get the AP credits, overseas students including APs have to prove they are immunized against a number of things.
* if your AP decides to travel anywhere exotic on her vacation, she may be entering the world of tropical medicine and travel medicine. Mine decided to travel to rural areas of Guatemala and Mexico (on an Intrepid Travel group tour, she had a fantastic time), but I wish I had known that before she came to the U.S., she had to pay full U.S. market price not only for some immunizations, but also for the travel clinic doctor’s time who administered the shots, and also preventive tablets to take with her like broad spectrum antibiotics etc. This used up several (unplanned) weeks’ worth of her AP stipend.

The one thing that helped one of my APs when she unexpectedly had some muscular back pain is that there is an acupuncture school here that offers some lower-priced clinics.

Hula Gal October 15, 2009 at 10:32 am

I decided not to require it because it seems to be imposing on her privacy and right to choose what is best for her medically and we did not get this commitment before we matched because we hadn’t thought about it. But, if you spend some time educating and explaining what the flu shot is and how it can be a good thing for her to get and include the statistics and safety information if she is reluctant than that is the best approach. The one thing I do believe is that the host family should really offer to pay for the flu shot. It is pretty cheap considering the alternative (finding childcare if your au pair gets sick for a week). Fortunately our au pair was already planning to get one. We were happy to pay. Thanks for this post – definitely timely.

Anna October 15, 2009 at 11:49 am

I have asked our au pair to get a flu shot at the local Walgreens, and she will be getting it. I will pay for it.
I haven’t asked our au pairs in previous years to do it, but this year both our kids are in school for much longer times, and the au pair volunteers at the school

Non-Coast Host Mom September 12, 2011 at 5:09 pm

I should have known you would already have a post on this! It just occurred to me after my first au pair’s recent arrival. Actually, when we went to the store a few days after she arrived I saw a sign advertising flu vaccines and thought — man, I forgot about that one! My kids have previously been cared for by close family and I required flu vaccines from them, too. With a not-quite-toddler in the house, I am wondering now about pertussis as well.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 12, 2011 at 8:24 pm

We require a flu shot (our special needs child is medically fragile) and not just the flu mist (HD and I get a shot, too). We reimburse 100%, but ask the AP to find time for it herself and to pay up front. (Actually, our rule is that if the AP gets sick from the kids, we pick up 100% of what her insurance doesn’t cover, but if she gets sick otherwise, she’s on her own to cover expenses.)

hOstCDmom September 12, 2011 at 11:17 pm

TACL – this is off topic, but is the flu mist considered less effective? I’m not a medical professional, but when my kids have been at the doctor for flu shots we’ve often been given the choice of shot vs mist (for the children old enough to have the mist) and were told “they are the same”/”similarly effective”. I’m guessing that because of The Camel you are very precise in what you require and why, so I would be very interested if you are aware of a resource that clarifies that the mist “isn’t as good” or isn’t as effective? Or do you require the shot because the mist poses a risk to The Camel even if it is her caregiver who has the mist? Thx.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 13, 2011 at 6:59 am

No, it’s not less effective. Because it’s live virus (albeit weakened) for children on steroids (e.g. asthmatics) it’s inappropriate. The guidelines used to say that no one in constant contact with the child was to have flu mist, but then pediatricians realized they couldn’t control what teachers, aides, therapists, etc. received and relaxed the rules.

Bottom line, we let our son decide what he wants, since he doesn’t provide direct care, but the rest of us can’t have live virus – the risk is too great to The Camel (who would be considered a drama queen if she weren’t so medically fragile – she drops like a stone with flu). If you have a child on steroids for any reason, spell out the need for a shot to your AP. If you have children under 2, ask your pediatrician what is recommended (I would think children under 2 haven’t been exposed to that many viruses and would be at risk, too, but I’m not a doctor).

hOstCDmom September 13, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Thank you for the info – much appreciated!!

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