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 10 things you need to know about the 2016-2017 influenza vaccine:
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 77 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 and are caused by secondary flu complications such as pneumonia. 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 aspneumonia.
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?"
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Flu vaccines are made from killed viruses. Mildsymptoms, such as nausea, sleepiness, headache, muscle aches, and chills, can occur.
The 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.
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 get the flu 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.
For the 2016-2017 season, manufacturers have projected that they will produce between up to 170 million doses of flu vaccine.
A robust body of research continues to show that the influenza vaccine is safe and is not associated with autism.
The flu vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines, but at a different place on the body. It is also important to note that children 6 months through 8 years of age may need two doses spaced one month apart to be fully protected. These children should receive their first dose as soon as the vaccine is available in their community. Live vaccines (like the MMR and chickenpox vaccines) may be given together or at least 4 weeks apart.
Children with an egg allergy can safely get the flu shot from their pediatrician without going to an allergy specialist. For children with a history of severe egg allergy, your pediatrician may recommend you see an allergy specialist.