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 11 things you need to know about the
2016-2017 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. 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 children died from the flu in the 2015-2016 season, although the actual number is probably much higher since many flu deaths aren't reported. If you choose not to vaccinate your child, you not only endanger your own child but also others.
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) strongly 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 as
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.
The only vaccine that should be given to children has to be a shot.
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.
quadrivalent live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV4) given by intranasal spray is not recommended for use this season.
3. It doesn't matter which form of the vaccine you get.
The quadrivalent influenza vaccines for the 2016-2017 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.
During the last three flu seasons, the nasal spray vaccine (the live attenuated quadrivalent influenza vaccine, or LAIV) did not offer protection against the predominant strain of influenza virus, and therefore it is not recommended for use this season.
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.
4. You can't get the flu from the flu vaccine.
Flu vaccines are made from killed viruses. Mild systemic symptoms, such as nausea, lethargy, headache, muscle aches, and chills, can occur.
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.
5. 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 contract influenza usually get a mild form of the disease, just the sniffles, according to a recent
study. People who are not vaccinated will be in bed with fever and miserable.
6. There should be plenty of vaccine for everyone this year.
For the 2016-2017 season, manufacturers have projected that they will produce between up to 170 million doses of flu vaccine.
7. 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
8. 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 and with a separate needle. It is also important to note that children 6 months through 8 years of age may need two doses spaced one month apart to achieve full protection. These children should receive their first dose as soon as the vaccine is available in their community. Live vaccines (such as the flu spray, MMR, and chickenpox vaccines) may be given together or at least 4 weeks apart.
9. Children with egg allergy can still get the flu vaccine.
Children presumed to have or known to have
egg allergy can safely receive influenza vaccine in the general pediatrician's office without going to an
allergy specialist. Influenza vaccine given in a single, age-appropriate dose is well-received by nearly all children and adults who have egg allergy. For children with a history of severe egg allergy, an allergy consultation may still be recommended.
Additional Information & Resources:
About Dr. Berchelmann:
Kathleen Berchelmann, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician at St. Louis Children's Hospital, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine, and an official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Berchelmann is the co-founder and director of ChildrensMD.org, a blog written by five dynamic mom-pediatricians who share their true confessions of trying to apply science and medicine to motherhood. She and her husband are raising five children.