By DR. IVOR HORN
This is only our son’s 3rd year getting the flu vaccine. Not because we were hesitant about him getting it, but until then, he was in the group for which the flu vaccine was not available. See, our son is allergic to nuts, dairy and eggs – and since the flu vaccine contains eggs, it risks a reaction.
Don’t worry, he’s fine! Yes, finding foods he can eat sometimes can be challenging, but he eats lots of great stuff. His dad has become a master at making baked goods without dairy or eggs. I’ll blog about that another time.
When our allergist said we could give him the vaccine in a controlled environment we jumped at the chance. But before then, we relied on lots of good handwashing and hygiene (for a boy – yeah right!) and the herd immunity from others who got their flu vaccine. Our son has asthma so his risk of complication, should he get the flu, were also greater. Before he went to preschool it was easier. We limited his exposure during the flu season and made sure our family got their flu vaccines, but when he headed to school, it got tough. The school nurse was great, not just because of my son, but she had a mindset about public health so she would remind parents about getting the flu vaccine in school newsletters and emails. As a pediatrician, in my practice I could actively talk to parents about the importance of giving their child the flu vaccine and dispel myths. But at my son’s school, I was a parent first and to push the subject would have been self-serving, so I just listened and hoped. I kept in touch with the school nurse about illnesses in the school. I watched my son closely.
Thankfully, now he can get the flu vaccine, but it requires an almost ½ day visit to the allergist. Still, avoiding the flu is worth it. So when I say it’s flu season, take note. Get your vaccine. Yes, I’m sincere and it’s personal.
But don’t just take my word. Here are a few facts about the flu.
- The flu vaccine does NOT give you the flu. The “flu shot” or the version given by injection with a needle is an inactivated vaccine. This means it is made with killed virus so that part that makes you sick is not active.
- You should get the flu vaccine every year. You may have heard that the components of the flu vaccine are the same as last year, but it is not sufficient if you got the vaccine last year because the effectiveness of the vaccine only last for one season.
- Flu is a serious illness. Several people die each year from complications of flu illness. Almost half of the children who died from complications of the flu last year were not vaccinated.
- Everyone can’t get the flu vaccine. Children under 6 months of age can’t get the flu vaccine so by getting the vaccine for you and your family, you are helping to keep them healthy. Getting your flu vaccine helps protect those most vulnerable to having flu complications.
What children are at greatest risk?
- Children younger than 6 months
- Children 6 months to their 5th birthday, and
- Children 6 months and older with chronic health problems such as asthma, diabetes and sickle cell anemia.
Be sure to get your vaccine as soon as it is available in your area.
- Children 6 months – 8 years who did not receive at least one dose of flu vaccine in the past should get 2 doses at least one month apart. If they have had a previous flu vaccine, they only need one dose.
- Healthy kids over the age of 2 can receive a nasal spray flu vaccine so they don’t even have to get a shot.
What are the signs of the flu? (from healthychildren.org)
- A sudden fever (usually greater than 101F or 38.3 C)
- Headache, body ache and fatigue
- Sore throat
- Stuffy, runny nose
- Some kids may have vomiting and diarrhea
Check with your child’s pediatrician to see what is right for your child and to answer your questions. Check these websites for more information:
And for information on how to get free or low-cost flu shots this season, check out Free and Low-Cost Flu Shots 2011 on Suddenly Frugal.
Ivor Horn is a mom, practicing pediatrician and researcher with several publications in medical journals. She has appeared on the Today show and Good Morning America Health discussing health topics such as childhood obesity, puberty and breastfeeding. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband of more than 20 years and their two children. You can follow her on Twitter @DrIvorHorn.