The flu season is soon to be upon us and I hate to be so prescriptive but when it comes to influenza I feel like I have to be. I immunize my entire family and I think you should, too.
Hard to believe, but with our children going back to school and swapping snot around the classroom, it’s time to get fall flu immunizations on your radar. Last year during the 2016-17 season, more than 100 U.S. children died of the flu (influenza), and thousands more were hospitalized for severe illness or complications from the virus. Historically, more than 80% of children who died of influenza were not vaccinated. The flu shot is the best way to teach your own immune system to fight back if exposed to the virus. The flu vaccine “recipe” was changed this year (one different A strain compared with last year’s vaccine) to accommodate for predicted viral strains that will likely come and circulate around our neighborhoods.
The recommendations this year are the same as last year. Every child over 6 months of age should be immunized.
10 Things To Know About Flu Shots:
Here’s what you need to know based on my experience as a pediatrician, The Centers for Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatrics policies:
- All Children Over 6 Months: The flu vaccine should be given to everyone 6 months and older. Babies and young children (6 months to 8 years) who have never had a flu shot will need 2 doses of the vaccine, given at least 4 weeks apart. Young children under age 5 years of age at higher risk of hospitalization and serious illness as are children with underlying medical conditions.
- Pregnant Moms High Risk: Flu vaccine should be given to all women who are pregnant, considering pregnancy or are in the postpartum period or are breastfeeding during the flu season. The vaccine is safe to get at any time during pregnancy. Mom’s immune response (making antibodies to the virus) are passed onto the baby in the final stages of pregnancy and protect newborns too young to get the shot. A double win!
- Only The Shot: This year, like last year, the nasal flu spray is not recommended because data showed that it was less effective in protecting children and their families from the most common strains of flu circulating. It’s a sincere bummer, in my mind, that we don’t get to offer the spray but it sure is good news to only use an effective vaccine backed by decades of safety research. Another reason to avoid promising “no-poke” visits.
- Timing: Get your vaccine as soon as it becomes available, and ideally by the end of October before Halloween. No reason to try to “game the system” and wait as there isn’t a lot of convincing data that the vaccine fades before the flu season does. Influenza peaks in early winter typically but of anything that’s predictable, it’s that influenza is unpredictable. Being immunized 2 weeks prior to an exposure is the best way to be protected. Most doctors and nurses and hospital workers will all have their vaccine in September and October.
- Children With Egg Allergies: are OK to get the shot and do not need to go to an allergist to get the vaccine.
- Flu Shot Can’t Cause Influenza: The flu shot doesn’t cause flu infection. The shot is not a live virus vaccine, it’s an inactivated vaccine, and it can’t replicate in the body.
- Lots Of Vaccines Available: Flu shots will likely be at your pediatrician’s office soon. There will be about 150 to 166 million doses of the vaccine produced.
- Side Effects: most commonly are pain in the arm or leg at the injection site. About 10-30% of children under age 2 years will get a fever whereas fever is rare after flu shots in older children and adults.
- Thimerosal: is a preservative used in multi-dose vaccines like influenza. There are thimerosal-free formulations, as well, if you’re concerned about the preservative. Thimerosal has never been shown to cause health problems.
- You Don’t Want Influenza, Get The Shot: Families, in my experience, who have experienced influenza in their home always get the flu shot thereafter! In my 11 years of practice, I’ve taken care of critically-ill patients with influenza, patients with severe pneumonia, severe ear infections, dehydration, seizures, and respiratory distress requiring oxygen all from flu. The vaccine effectiveness for flu vaccine varies from year to year based on what specific strains are in the vaccine (3 or 4 strains, depending on the manufacturer) and what strains of influenza virus actually circulate between people. On average, most years the vaccines anywhere from about 50 to 60% effective. That means if 100 people got the shot about 50 or 60 people, on average each year, would be protected from getting the infection when exposed to influenza. Some people feel it’s not good enough — but remember if you don’t get the vaccine you have absolutely zero added protection when exposed. Some studies find that anywhere between 10-40% of children are exposed to influenza every year so every layer of protection helps.
When you immunize your kid, you first and foremost protect them, you secondarily protect your family, and third, you protect those kids who can’t get the shot, those older people who won’t mount a great response to the vaccine and can get really sick when they’re exposed, and those babies who are too young to be immunized. ~From an NPR Interview on 2017 Flu Vaccine
As A Pro-Vaccine Parent You Can Change Your Community’s Protection:
One of the ways you can change your family’s level of protection is to make sure other families in your community also get their flu shot so their family doesn’t share flu to you and those you love. In general, one of the reasons we have a lot of circulating flu is that only about 50-75% of people get the flu vaccine (depends on your age range, toddlers typically are well immunized!). What if parents were the ones to endorse protection from influenza? What if we drove our schools and playgroups and community protection by helping make sure families remembered it was an important step?
Perhaps share with others that you’re immunizing your family? Share a video on your Facebook or Instagram or other social community? I’m hoping this 20-second video can help nudge those who haven’t yet planned to get their family protected. Spread it, not the virus.