By: Michael Bolton, MD, and Catherine O’Neal, MD
If personal experience with the flu isn’t enough to persuade parents to have their children vaccinated, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should be.
Each year, an average of 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized because of complications from the flu. According to the CDC, 140 children died during the 2014–2015 flu season.
The best thing you can do as a parent is to have your children vaccinated against the flu. Especially vulnerable to serious flu complications are children with chronic health problems like asthma, diabetes and disorders of the brain or nervous system.
The good news this flu season is that the vaccines we’re using are expected to be three-times more effective than those made available in the fall of 2014.
Parents often ask us questions about vaccines and flu. Here are some questions we frequently get:
Should all children be vaccinated?
The CDC recommends flu vaccines for all children except those younger than six months of age, or children with specific medical conditions such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome. You should discuss with your doctor whether a flu vaccine is right for your child. In families with a child under six months old, everyone else in the family should get a flu shot so they’re less likely to contract flu and infect the infant.
What kinds of vaccines are available?
For children there is a nasal mist or a traditional injection. The recommendation this year doesn’t delineate a preference for the mist versus the shot for children. The nasal mist produces a great immune response for protection, in part because the mist contains live virus. However, the mist is safe: the virus cells are rendered inactive by body temperature soon after the spray is administered. Children with asthma or a history of wheezing shouldn’t receive the nasal spray. For them, the traditional flu injection still provides excellent protection.
How long does it take a flu vaccine to provide protection?
It usually takes 2–3 weeks for the flu vaccination to become fully effective.
Flu season usually runs from November to April or May, so have your children vaccinated as soon as possible. Children less than 9 years old receiving their very first flu vaccine require two doses given 28 days apart.
Why do vaccines change from year to year?
Vaccine formulas change because influenza viruses constantly change. Vaccines are developed many months before flu season begins in order to produce enough doses in time. This year’s vaccines provide protection against at least three strains of flu, and are expected to be 60 percent effective, compared with the previous flu season’s vaccines which turned out to be 20 percent effective.
What if my vaccinated child catches the flu anyway?
Vaccines also can lessen or shorten symptoms for those who get the flu. Vaccines also can prevent flu from spreading among families, schools and workplaces. Even if your child gets the flu before vaccination occurs, your child should still get the vaccine to protect against the other strains of the flu.
Dr. Michael Bolton is a Pediatric Infectious Disease specialist at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital and medical director of quality and safety. Dr. Catherine O’Neal is Medical Director of Infection Control and Prevention at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.