By: Kathleen Berchelmann M.D., 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
2015-2016 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 145 children died from the flu in the 2014-2015 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 than we would like, 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 percent of pregnant women. This number needs to get better. Ask your child's school,
daycare 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 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 is too prevalent.
3. It doesn't have to be a shot, you can get the nasal spray vaccine instead.
Two types of influenza vaccines are available for use in children. The
inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV) is given by intramuscular injection and is approved for children 6 months of age and older. It is available in both trivalent (IIV3) and quadrivalent (IIV4) forms.
quadrivalent live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV4) is given by intranasal spray and is approved for healthy patients 2 through 49 years of age.
4. If you are healthy, it doesn't matter which form of the vaccine you get.
The quadrivalent influenza vaccines for the 2015-2016 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 2014-2015 flu season, the nasal spray vaccine (the live attenuated quadrivalent influenza vaccine, or LAIV) did not offer greater protection than IIV against the predominant strain of influenza virus. Some people with illnesses that affect the immune system can only get certain forms of the vaccine, which is why the different vaccines are available. If you are healthy, either vaccine is appropriate.
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. Remember, influenza is already here!
5. You can't get the flu from the flu vaccine.
Flu vaccines are made from killed or weakened 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 local pain and tenderness. 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. The nose-spray version of the flu vaccine (the quadrivalent live attenuated influenza vaccine or LAIV4) has the potential to produce mild symptoms including runny nose, headache, wheezing, vomiting, muscle aches and fever.
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, I wish that number was 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.
7. This year's flu vaccine is expected to work better than last year's flu vaccine. Here's why:
The 2014-2015 flu season was particularly severe, because the predominant strain was an influenza A called H3N2, which was not included in the vaccine. The vaccine for the 2015-2016 season contains the H3N2 strain.
8. There should be plenty of vaccine for everyone this year.
For the 2015-2016 season, manufacturers have projected that they will produce between 171 and 179 million doses of flu vaccine. At least 40 million doses have already shipped.
9. 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
Recently, certain politicians have made comments about vaccines that implied incorrect information. Please see the AAP response to these comments
10. 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.
11. Most children with egg allergy can still get the flu vaccine.
Most children presumed 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 is still recommended.
If your household does get influenza, here are the
"Five F's to Fight the Flu."
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.