By: Kathleen Berchelmann MD, FAAP
It’s time to get flu shots for your family before your house is full of fevers and dripping noses.
Here are 10 things you need to know about the 2017-2018 influenza vaccine:
1. The flu vaccine is essential for children.
The flu virus is common and unpredictable, and it can cause serious complications and death, even in healthy children. The influenza immunization each year is the best way to protect children.
Each year, on average, 5% to 20% of the U.S. population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from complications. At least 101 children died from the flu in the 2016-2017 season, If you choose not to vaccinate your child, you not only miss the opportunnity to protect your own child but also can put others at risk.
Although influenza can be treated with antiviral medications, these drugs are less effective if not started early, can be expensive, and may have bothersome side effects.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual influenza immunization for all people ages 6 months and older, including children and adolescents. In addition, household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children with high risk conditions and all children under the age of 5 especially should be vaccinated.
Young children, people with asthma, heart disease, diabetes, weakened immune systems, and pregnant women are at high risk for complications of influenza, such aspneumonia.
About half of all Americans get vaccinated against the flu each year, including 50% of pregnant women. This number needs to get better. Ask your child’s school, child care center, or sports coach, “How are we promoting the flu vaccine for these children?”
2. Now is the time to get vaccinated.
Influenza vaccine shipments have already begun, and will continue through the fall and winter. Call your pediatrician to ask when the vaccine will be available.
Infants and children up to 8 years of age receiving the flu shot for the first time may need two doses of the vaccine, administered four weeks apart. It is important that these children get their first dose as soon as possible to be sure they can complete both doses before the flu season begins.
3. This year’s flu vaccine is only available as a shot.
The inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV) is given by intramuscular injection and is approved for children 6 months of age and older. Depending on the number of flu strains it contains, it is available in both trivalent (IIV3 – two A and one B virus) and quadrivalent (IIV4 – two A and two B viruses) forms. The intranasal influenza vaccine is not recommended in any setting in the US.
4. It doesn’t matter which form of the vaccine you get.
The quadrivalent influenza vaccines for the 2017-2018 season contain the same three strains as the trivalent vaccine, plus an additional B strain. Although this may offer improved protection, the AAP does not give preference for one type of flu vaccine over another.
Please don’t delay vaccination in order to wait for a specific vaccine. Influenza virus is unpredictable. What’s most important is that people receive the vaccine as soon as possible.
5. You can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine.
Flu vaccines are made from killed viruses. Mild symptoms, such as nausea, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, and chills, can occur.
The side effects of the flu vaccine are mild (and nothing compared to having the flu). The most common side effects are pain and tenderness at the site of injection. Fever is also seen within 24 hours after immunization in approximately 10% to 35% of children younger than 2 years of age but rarely in older children and adults. These symptoms are usually mild and resolve on their own in a couple of days.
6. If you catch the flu and are vaccinated, you will get a milder form of the disease.
We know that flu vaccines are about 60% effective–yes, we all wish that number were higher. The good news is that vaccinated people who get the flu usually get a mild form of the disease, according to a study. People who are not vaccinated will likely be in bed with fever and miserable and even could develop a complication.
7. There should be plenty of vaccine for everyone this year.
For the 2017-2018 season, manufacturers have projected that they will produce between up to 166 million doses of flu vaccine.
8. The influenza vaccine doesn’t cause autism.
A robust body of research continues to show that the influenza vaccine is safe and is not associated with autism.
9. The flu vaccine can be given at the same time as other vaccines.
The flu vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines, but at a different place on the body. It is also important to note that children 6 months through 8 years of age may need two doses spaced one month apart to be fully protected. These children should receive their first dose as soon as the vaccine is available in their community. Live vaccines (like the MMR and chickenpox vaccines) may be given together or at least 4 weeks apart.
10. Children with egg allergy can get the flu vaccine.
Children with an egg allergy can safely get the flu shot from their pediatrician without going to an allergy specialist. Even those with a history of severe egg allergy don’t have to treat getting the flu vaccine differently than getting any other vaccine, because these people are not likely to have a reaction to the flu vaccine.
Additional Information & Resources:
- Preventing the Flu: Resources for Parents & Child Care Providers
- Flu: A Guide for Parents of Children and Adolescents with Chronic Health Conditions
- Influenza Immunization for All Health Care Personnel: Keep It Mandatory (AAP Policy Statement)
- Flu.gov (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- PreventChildhoodInfluenza.org (National Foundation for Infectious Diseases/Childhood Influenza Immunization Coalition)
- Flu Fighter Coloring Book (National Foundation for Infectious Diseases)
- Ready Wrigley Prepares for Flu Season: Activity Book (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
About Dr. Berchelmann:
Kathleen Berchelmann, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician at Mercy Children’s Hospital, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at The University of Missouri School of Medicine, and an official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Kathleen and her husband are raising six children.
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- Copyright © 2016 Kathleen Berchelmann MD, FAAP