I’m a pediatrician. Here’s what I want you to know about vaccines.

By Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician

dr-katherine-williamson
Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician

Proper vaccination is important for all people, but especially infants and babies. When children follow the recommended immunization schedule outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), they are better protected against potentially life-threatening diseases.

As a pediatrician, I get a lot of questions about baby vaccination and vaccines for children. In observance of national immunization month, here are the most common questions I get about vaccines.

Are vaccines safe?

Vaccines are one of the most important things we can do to help protect our children’s health. Vaccines and proper handwashing, more so than all other interventions, have proven to be the most safe and effective ways to prevent disease.

What is the proper vaccine schedule?

The current immunization schedule outlined by the AAP and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has been researched and proven to be the most effective and safest way for children to be vaccinated against potentially fatal diseases. It’s important to know that no alternative schedule has been shown to be as safe and effective.

I get frequent questions from expectant and new parents who are concerned about the number of vaccines given to kids at one time under the recommended schedule. The amount of antigen (protein) in the vaccine that is put into your child’s body is 100,000 times less than if your child has a common cold, so there’s no concern about overwhelming their immune system when they get their vaccines.

Do I really need a flu shot every year?

Yes. Influenza causes a higher number of death and illness over any other disease annually in the US, and your best chance of preventing influenza is the flu vaccine. Symptoms of influenza include high fevers, chills, muscle aches, and respiratory symptoms that can lead to pneumonia and respiratory failure. Children under 2 years and adults over 60 years of age are at the highest risk of becoming seriously ill if they are exposed to influenza.

The CDC recommends an annual influenza vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older. You should be vaccinated as soon as the influenza vaccine becomes available. Although flu season peaks between December and February, it can start as early as October and last through May.

What can I do to make my child more comfortable while receiving a vaccination?

Studies have shown that preparing your child for vaccinations should ideally include three components” explaining what will happen, how it will feel, and strategies for coping with any related stress or discomfort. Here’s more tips on how to make shots less stressful.

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Stomach Flu vs. Influenza

Many people talk about the “stomach flu” when they’re feeling sick to their stomachs. It isn’t the same as influenza or the flu. Stomach flu is an illness called gastroenteritis, which is usually caused by a virus. The seasonal flu, or influenza, is a virus in the upper respiratory system. Each year from October to May, millions of people all across the U.S. come down with the flu.

Stomach flu (gastroenteritis)

Someone with the stomach flu may have the following symptoms:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

He or she will usually feel sick for a day or two and then feel better. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine or cure for the stomach flu or gastroenteritis. Here’s how you can make the stomach flu go away:

  • Get lots of rest
  • If you’re throwing up, avoid solid food. When you feel up for reintroducing food, start with bland items like bananas, rice, applesauce or toast.
  • Sip fluids, such as water, or try a popsicle.
  • To avoid dehydration, sip small amounts of beverages that contain electrolytes.

Seasonal flu (influenza)

When people have influenza, they usually feel worse than they do with a cold. Most people start to feel sick about two days after they come in contact with the flu virus. They might have:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Ear pain
  • Diarrhea

Sometimes, influenza can turn into pneumonia. This is especially dangerous for babies, or kids and adults with pre-existing health conditions. If you think your child has influenza, see a doctor.

How to treat the flu

Most kids with influenza will get better at home. Make sure your child:

  • Drinks plenty of fluids
  • Gets plenty of sleep
  • Takes acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve fever and aches.
  • Wears layers that are easy to remove. Children might feel cold one minute and hot the next.

Fever and most other flu symptoms often go away in about five days, but kids may experience a lingering cough or feel weak. Children should be kept home from school or daycare until they have been fever-free for 24 hours.

Tips for keeping your kids safe from the seasonal flu:

There are several things you can do to help your family avoid the seasonal flu.

  1. Get a flu shot. It’s better to get vaccinated later in the season than not at all. The Centers for Disease Control recommends annual influenza vaccinations for everyone 6 months and older.
  2. Practice proper hand washing. Besides getting a flu shot, proper hand-washing is the best way to prevent the spread of illness, including the seasonal flu.
  3. Stay away from people who have a fever. Ask friends, family and caregivers who have had a fever or chills within the past 24 hours to stay away from your child. Likewise, keep your little ones home from school or daycare for 24 hours after they’ve had the same symptoms.
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6 Ways to Keep Your Kids Safe from the Flu

Flu season is here. We spoke to Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician, about how to keep your kids safe from the flu.

Dr. Katherine Williamson
Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician

#1 Get the flu shot

Make sure that each member of your family gets the flu shot every year. The Centers for Disease Control recommends annual influenza vaccinations for everyone age 6 months and older. Vaccinations are especially important for those at increased risk for flu complications, including pregnant women. Encourage family members and caregivers around your child to get the flu shot. Of the more than 170 pediatric deaths from the flu during the 2017-2018 influenza season, 80 percent of those did not receive a flu shot.

#2 Practice proper hand washing

Remind your child that we always wash our hands for at least 15 seconds (always with soap, and always with vigorous rubbing) after using the restroom, before and after eating, after playing outside, and after sneezing, coughing or touching your face. Aside from getting the flu shot every year, proper hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of illnesses including the flu.

#3 Stay away from people who have a fever

Ask friends, family, or caregivers who have had a fever or chills within the past 24 hours to stay away from your child. Do not send your child to school or daycare for at least 24 hours after they experience a fever or chills.

#4 Teach proper cough etiquette

Teach your child to cover his nose and mouth when he coughs. Parents should model good behavior.

#5 The importance of sleep

Sleep! The best immune system boost you can give your child is good sleep at any age. The right amount of sleep for your child is however much sleep he/she needs when he/she can wake up naturally without an alarm clock or mommy clock waking them up. For some kids this is 8 hours, while other need more than 10.

#6 Healthy eating

Healthy vegetables, fruit, and protein. You are what you eat! Eating processed sugar-filled foods can decrease your immunity by inhibiting your body to fight against diseases. Offer your kids healthy foods without the option of choosing the less healthy snack. They will eat when they are hungry, and when they are hungry, make sure it is healthy options that are available.

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Should I Take My Child to the Pediatrician, Urgent Care or Emergency Department?

By Dr. Sarah Kay Herrera, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician

At CHOC Children’s, we know that parents want to be confident they’re giving their child the best care. In order to do that, you need to know where to bring them when they’re sick, but the problem is there are so many options: Do I bring them to the pediatrician’s office? Urgent care? Emergency department? This can make you feel overwhelmed and confused – especially with cold and flu season just around the corner.

We believe parents should have peace of mind they are getting their child the best care. We know it can be scary, stressful and sad to have a sick child. That’s why our Primary Care Network has 16 convenient locations throughout Orange County and beyond. CHOC Children’s Hospital in Orange offers the only emergency department in Orange County that’s just for kids. At the Mission Hospital Emergency Department, in partnership with CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital, kids and families have access to pediatric-trained nurses, physicians and specialists.

To help you make decisions about where to go for care, consult this guide:

1. Pediatrician

Your pediatrician’s office is not only a place for check-ups, but your primary resource for sick visits as well. Your child’s pediatrician is the doctor who already knows your child’s medical history.

  • You will need to set an appointment for a sick visit, which could include symptoms like fever, runny nose, cough, ear pain, headaches, sore throat, rashes or abdominal pain.
  • If your child is experiencing a chronic lingering issue such as abdominal pain or headaches, it is best to see your pediatrician as they can provide ongoing care and find a pattern in the symptoms, which is important for more complex illnesses.

Here’s a helpful guide of what to bring to the pediatrician’s office.

2. Urgent care

  • Urgent care offices are usually open after business hours, which is typically after 5 p.m. and weekends.
  • Most are walk-in clinics and do not take appointments. This means you can usually expect long wait times. This is the best place to go for acute illness such as fevers, ear pain, runny nose, cough, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, minor falls, and stitches.
  • Sometimes your pediatrician or an urgent care provider may decide your child is too ill to go home and they may send you to the emergency department for further treatment or testing.

Emergency department

  • In some cases, it’s best to go straight to the emergency department for apparent life-threatening events, which could include rapid and fast breathing, head trauma, trauma with loss of consciousness or vomiting, motor vehicle accidents, severe abdominal pain or dehydration.
  • An infant less than 28 days old with a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher is considered an emergency and should be taken directly to the ED.
  • Here’s a helpful checklist of what to bring to the emergency department.
  • Not all urgent care clinics and emergency rooms take care of children on a regular basis. It is best to go somewhere that specializes in children’s health. Pediatric-focused facilities have specialized training and equipment to offer the best care for your child.
  • Most pediatrician offices have a phone triage line to help parents decide which place may be best for their child.
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What Every Parent Should Know About Emergency Departments During Flu Season

This year, thousands of people are packing their local emergency department during flu season. As the region’s only pediatric-dedicated facility, the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Children’s Hospital is seeing an extremely high number of patients, from infants to teens. Our physicians and staff understand how anxious and scared parents and children can get when faced with a trip to the emergency department. They offer the following information and tips for parents coming to the emergency department during the busy flu season:

  • Be prepared to see a full lobby, including people seated in chairs down hallways and in additional areas throughout the department. Typically, the department gets busier as the day progresses. CHOC has added staff to help manage wait times.
  • Leave siblings and other family members at home, if possible. This will help ease crowding, but more importantly, keeps well children from being exposed to sick ones. Also, parents’ attention should be focused on their ill or injured children.
  • Patients are seen based on how sick or injured they are, not on the order they arrived in the emergency department. Please keep in mind there are patients who arrive in ambulances – admitted in an area beyond your view. Our staff must treat the sickest first. If you’ve been waiting and are concerned your child’s condition is getting worse, please ask a nurse to reassess her.
  • Hold off on giving food or drink to your child until she’s been seen by the doctor. A full stomach can delay procedures and the use of sedatives.
  • There are nurses and emergency medical technicians (EMT) who work in the lobby and have different roles. Nurses, dressed in maroon scrubs, help screen and assess patients; some will assist with lab work or X-rays. EMTs, dressed in tan scrubs, can only take vitals and measure height and weight. EMTs will notify the nurses in the lobby of any changes they observe in patients’ conditions.
  • Don’t expect a prescription for antibiotics, which aren’t always the answer. Antibiotics can only treat infections caused by bacteria. Cold illness caused by viruses can’t be cured with an antibiotic.
  • Try to stay calm. Children can pick up on their parents’ fear and anxiety. Take deep breaths for your and your child’s sake.
Download a checklist of what to bring to the emergency department

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