Melissa Arca: There are plenty of reasons for children to get flu shots

10/18/2012 12:00 AM

10/26/2012 5:59 AM

It's flu season. Fortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports low flu activity across the United States.

What does this mean? Now's the time to think of prevention. And one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from flu is the yearly vaccine.

There are interventions that can significantly reduce the chance that your child will come down with the flu: getting plenty of sleep (10 hours for school-age children), eating well (think lots of fruits and veggies), exercising (60 minutes of daily vigorous play for kids), and teaching your kids good hand hygiene.

Add flu vaccine to the list.

Today, I'll answer some common questions I get from parents regarding the flu vaccine.

When should my child get the flu vaccine?

As soon as the vaccine becomes available is the best time. Now would be good. Flu season typically commences in October and can last through May. The CDC recommends the flu vaccine for all people 6 months of age and older.

How can I protect by baby since she is too young for the vaccine?

The best way to protect infants under 6 months of age is to ensure that all household members and caregivers receive their yearly flu vaccine and of course, practice good hand hygiene and common sense when they (caregivers) are ill.

With the vaccine, what are the chances my child still gets the flu?

The flu vaccine is not foolproof and anyone still has a chance of coming down with the flu. That said, the vaccine contains three different influenza strains that vary each year depending on research done by the CDC, World Health Organization, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration on the different circulating strains. This year, the vaccine confers protection against two types of influenza A viruses (H1N1 and H3N2) and one type of influenza B.

The good news is that healthy children older than 2 seem to respond most favorably to the flu vaccine. Keep in mind that other circulating viruses during cold and flu season can cause flu-like illnesses.

What about thimerosol. Do I need to worry about that?

Thimerosol (a mercury-based preservative) has been taken out of all childhood vaccines except the multidose vial of the flu shot.

Children under 3 years of age receive the preservative-free vaccine (no thimerosol), and the flu mist does not contain any preservatives.

My son has asthma. Should he get the vaccine?

Absolutely. Children with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or another condition that weakens the immune system are most at risk for complications from the flu, which include pneumonia, bronchitis, ear infections and potentially the need for hospitalization. The only caveat is that he must receive the shot, not the mist.

Speaking of the mist, who can get the nasal flu mist vaccine?

All healthy children older than 2 years can receive the nasal spray.

Unlike the shot, the mist contains weakened "live" virus. This rarely (if ever) causes flu in healthy children. Children with asthma, a history of wheezing, or who have a severe egg allergy should receive the shot instead.

A child with an egg allergy can still get the flu vaccine?

Yes. New studies have revealed that these children may still receive the flu shot under close supervision by their doctor.

My child has a mild cold; can she still get the vaccine?

Yes. Mild upper-respiratory infections or other mild illnesses should not prevent your child from receiving the flu vaccine. If your child has significant nasal congestion, this could interfere with the effectiveness of the flu mist, however. Always discuss with your child's doctor.

When will the vaccine take hold and how long does immunity last?

It takes two weeks for immunity to develop and the seasonal flu vaccine typically protects for six to 12 months.

What are the most common side effects of the flu vaccine?

For both the shot and the mist, it's possible to experience some fatigue and muscle aches afterward. The shot can cause some redness and soreness at the injection site. The mist can cause a mild runny nose, cough, and/or wheezing. That said, most children do just fine without any untoward side effects.

Won't the flu vaccine give me the flu?

No. The shot contains a killed virus, and the mist is a weakened live virus, neither of which can actually cause the flu.

Also, remember it takes two weeks for immunity to take hold. It's quite possible another virus was brewing or a person was exposed before vaccination.

If you have additional questions about the flu vaccine and your child, please discuss with your child's health care provider.

The bottom line for me is that the flu vaccine is worth it. High fevers, aches, pains, potentially serious complications and days missed from school and work? No thanks, I'll do what I can to protect my family from the flu. And for me, that means getting us all vaccinated.


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