Should I Have My Child Get a Flu Shot?
It’s fall again, and soon the flu season will be upon us. We have a great many families and young children who come to our office for their health care. And invariably, every year, I am asked the same question, “Does my child need a flu shot?”
I have worked in medical offices for about 20 years now. When I first transferred from hospital work into the primary care setting, the answer to this question was, “that depends”. We used to only give flu shots to children who had chronic conditions, like diabetes, asthma, neurological and neuromuscular disorders (like cerebral palsy, seizure, or muscular dystrophy), or immune system problems. We now have better information about who is most susceptible to the flu and who is most likely to spread the illness.
Every child over the age of 6 months who is not severely allergic to chicken eggs should have a flu shot. If your child is under the age of 9 years and has never had a flu shot, he or she needs to have two flu shots, a month apart, the first year that flu immunization is given.
Another option for flu immunization is the Flumist nasal vaccine, for those ages 2-49 years. Flumist is a live vaccine. The injectable form of the vaccine is a killed virus.
The influenza viruses are respiratory illnesses that cause high fever, dry coughing and intense body aches.
I have talked to parents who wanted to have their children get a flu shot because they thought it would prevent illnesses that are commonly referred to as the “flu”, meaning GI upset, vomiting, and diarrhea. And while vomiting and diarrhea can accompany influenza virus infection, the vaccine will not prevent all gastrointestinal illnesses that we typically see during the cold and flu season.
Children are the most likely population to widely spread the flu virus. This is because they are not able to be conscious of hand washing and controlling their coughs and sneezes. Very young children and preschoolers who are in a daycare setting are exposed to illness more than
those children who stay home. Last year there were 115 children and youth in the United States who died from the flu. Many of these deaths occurred in healthy children who had not gotten a flu shot. Children with the flu are contagious to other unvaccinated family members, including grandparents, who have a higher risk for death from the disease and its complications.
What are complications from getting the flu? The most common complication from the flu illness is pneumonia, both viral and bacterial.
Pneumonia usually lasts about 2 weeks and may require hospitalization. In some cases, this pneumonia can cause the lungs to fill with fluid and the lung tissue itself becomes stiff, resulting in severe difficulty breathing and eventually death. Other complications from having the flu include ear infections, sinusitis, bronchitis, muscle inflammation (myositis) and infections of the central nervous system or the sac around the heart (pericarditis).
If you are employed and your child gets the flu, you will likely miss work, either taking care of your sick child or being ill yourself. Children miss many days of school unnecessarily because they have the flu.
Many times children will start the spread of flu even before their parents realize that they are sick.
Many parents mistakenly believe that because their child got sick at some point after receiving the flu vaccine that it did not work, or if the illness happened within a week or two of vaccine administration, that the vaccine caused the illness. The injectable form of the flu vaccine is a killed virus vaccine and cannot cause the flu.
If you have ever taken care of a child who has the flu, or if you have had the flu yourself, you know just how bad this illness can be. I encourage you to get a flu shot for your children as well as yourself!
Blessings to you,