Should My Kids Get the Flu Shot This Year?

Many parents have expressed concern over the last few months that this year’s influenza vaccine may be less effective than in years past and wondering, “Should my kids get the flu shot this year?” These concerns stem from data released after Australia’s flu season, where recent reports indicated low effectiveness of the vaccine.

“We’re using the same vaccine here in the United States, so people think it won’t be effective,” says Dr. Jasjit Singh, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and medical director of infection prevention and control at CHOC Children’s.

dr-jasjit-singh-choc-childrens
Dr. Jasjit Singh, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and medical director of infection prevention and control at CHOC Children’s., addresses parents’ annual concerns over, “Should my kids get the flu shot this year?”

These doubts are misguided, says Singh. Although reports show Australia’s vaccine was only 10 percent effective, that data was specifically looking at the H3N2 strain that had dominated the southern hemisphere this year, she says. Effectiveness against the same strain in the US has been as high as 30-40 percent, and even higher against other strains of influenza in the past.

“We can’t take that one statistic and apply it to all strains of the flu in the US this season,” Singh says.

It’s important for parents to remember that the although the vaccine helps prevent children and adults from getting the flu, physicians are especially concerned with preventing influenza-related hospitalizations or even death.

“People forget that children and adults can die from influenza. So far in the U.S. there have been nine pediatric flu-related deaths this season,” Singh says.

Since the 2004-2005 flu season, flu-related deaths in children have ranged from 37 to 171 each season, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

A recent study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics examined vaccine effectiveness in 291 pediatric influenza-associated pediatric deaths from 2010-2014. Vaccine effectiveness was 51 percent in children with high-risk conditions, compared to 65 percent in children without high-risk conditions.

“This shows that many of our deaths are in otherwise healthy children,” Singh says.

Although it’s best to get vaccinated early in the season, it’s better to be vaccinated later in the winter than not at all.

“Very often, people get vaccinated because someone they know has the flu. It takes two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, so if your child has been exposed to the flu in that time period, they can still get sick,” she says.

Parents should remember that children cannot get from the flu from getting a flu shot.

“The vaccine is not a live vaccine, so it’s impossible to get the flu from getting a flu shot,” Singh says. “the vaccine prevents influenza virus, but during winter months there are many other viruses that cause colds and respiratory viruses, that are usually milder than the flu.”

Those who decline a flu shot because they “never get the flu” still need to be vaccinated, she adds.

“It’s important to remember that some people may have minimal symptoms, but can still pass the virus to others who may be vulnerable to more severe disease.”

The single best way to protect your child from the flu is by getting them vaccinated each year. In addition to receiving an annual influenza vaccine, there are other things parents and caregivers can do to help prevent the flu. Use proper hand-washing techniques, use respiratory etiquette, and stay home from work or school if you are sick with the flu, to prevent spreading it to others.

Download your immunization guide

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How to Prepare Your Family for Flu Season

Flu season is here, and there are several things you can do to help prepare your family for flu season.  Here, Dr. Daniel Mackey, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician, answers some of parents’ most common questions about how to prepare your family for flu season.

Dr. Daniel Mackey
Dr. Daniel Mackey, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician

Is the nasal flu vaccine available this year?

An advisory committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently recommended that the nasal spray influenza vaccine not be used this upcoming flu season.

When should my child get a flu shot?

Vaccines are already available for the 2017-2018 influenza season. Children up to eight years of age who have not received a flu vaccine in the past may need two doses, four weeks apart.

Who needs a flu vaccine?

The CDC recommends the flu vaccine for all people age 6 months and older. Certain people are at higher risk of complications from the flu, so it’s especially important that these people (and people who live with them) get vaccinated. They include:

  • pregnant women
  • kids younger than age 5
  • people age 65 and older
  • people of any age who have long-term health conditions

Can my child get the flu from the flu vaccine?

No. You cannot get the flu from getting the flu vaccine. The vaccine prevents influenza, however it does not prevent against other strains of viruses.

What sort of flu season is expected this year?

Physicians can’t predict what the flu season will be like. Every influenza season, the severity and length varies, which is why it’s important to get vaccinated every year.

Besides ensuring their children get a flu vaccine, what else can parents do to help prevent the flu?

In addition to ensuring their child is vaccinated against the flu every year, there are many things parents and other caregivers can do to help prevent the flu. Use proper hand-washing techniques, use respiratory etiquette, and stay home from work or school if you are sick with the flu, to prevent spreading it to others.

Looking for a pediatrician? Find one near you.

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When to See the Pediatrician This Season

As soon as the school year begins, pediatricians start seeing more infectious diseases because these illnesses are more communicable in a classroom setting. Poor weather enhances that communicability, so these ailments become even more prevalent during winter months. It can often be difficult for parents to decide which infections can be treated at home and which require a trip to the pediatrician.

We spoke with Dr. Michael Cater, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician, about what ailments parents should keep a close watch for this season, and how to tell when it’s time to make an appointment with their child’s doctor.

when to see pediatrician
Dr. Michael Cater, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician, offers advice on when to see the pediatrician this season.

Influenza season tends to pick up in late December or early January, Dr. Cater says, but its prevalence in the community depends on how many people get immunized. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months receive an influenza vaccine. However, for this season, the nasal flu vaccine is not available.

Sometimes it is difficult for parents to decide which illnesses can be treated at home and which ones require a trip to the pediatrician. Dr. Cater offers tips on when it’s time to make an appointment:

  • Many infectious diseases in children are associated with a fever. If a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher lasts longer than three days, then a visit to the pediatrician is needed for future evaluation.
  • Labored breathing that doesn’t respond to home remedies. This could be an indication of a more serious respiratory infection.
  • If a child is vomiting and does not respond to dietary restriction.
  • Cases of diarrhea when the child doesn’t respond to dietary restrictions.
  • Sore throat associated with a fever and tenderness in the neck. This could indicate Strep throat, requiring antibiotics for the most effective treatment.
  • Ear pain in conjunction with an upper respiratory infection such as a cold, especially if the ear pain begins four or five days after the onset of the cold. This is highly suggestive of an ear infection, requiring antibiotics for the most effective treatment.

To avoid common infections this season, remember to get your family vaccinated against influenza, and practice proper hand washing technique. Children should wash their hands:

  • Before eating
  • After going to the bathroom
  • After blowing their nose
  • After playtime

Use hand sanitizer when you’re on the go and think your child may have touched something contaminated with germs, but use actual soap and water when you see dirt. Spend at least fifteen seconds vigorously washing hands front and back, and between the fingers.

Download this guide to personal hygiene to help prevent the spread of germs this season.

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Nasal Flu Vaccine Not Recommended This Season

An advisory committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended that the nasal spray influenza vaccine not be used this upcoming flu season. In this Q&A, Dr. Jasjit Singh, medical director of infection prevention and control at CHOC Children’s, offers an explanation.

Dr. Jasjit Singh
Dr. Jasjit Singh

Q: What does this mean for influenza vaccine recommendations for the upcoming flu season?

A: All individuals over the age of 6 months are recommended to get the influenza vaccine, and that will continue to be the case.  However, for this season at least, the nasal flu vaccine is not an option. Therefore, parents will need to plan for their children to get the flu shot this upcoming season.

Q: How does the standard flu shot differ from the nasal spray version in terms of composition and effectiveness?

A: Both the flu shot and the nasal spray contain the anticipated predominant circulating strains of influenza every year, but the nasal spray strains are made of weakened live virus while the flu shot is made of inactivated viral components. The CDC reviewed data from this past season that suggested that the nasal spray did not perform as well as it had in the past.

Q: Besides ensuring their children get a flu shot, what else can parents do to help prevent the flu?

A: In addition to ensuring their child is vaccinated against the flu every year, there are many things parents and other caregivers can do to help prevent the flu. Use proper hand-washing techniques, use respiratory etiquette, and stay home from work or school if you are sick with the flu, to prevent spreading it to others.

Q: What do you anticipate will be parents’ reactions to this recommendation? Is there anything else you’d like them to know? Is there anything else you’d like to share with parents about the importance of vaccinations?

A:  Vaccinations are one of the most effective public health measures that have been developed and they save thousands of lives each year. Influenza vaccinations are important because young children can get quite sick from the flu, and some even require hospitalization. Every year there are pediatric deaths in the U.S. due to influenza, about half of which occur in normal healthy children. Children can pass influenza on to the elderly or other fragile members of our community. It’s important for adults to get the flu shot too, particularly those who are caring for young children. Even though the nasal spray is not an option for vaccinating this particular season, it is still important to have your child vaccinated for this year.

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Flu Season Approaching, Take These Preventive Steps

Don’t be caught off guard, beat the flu this season! Flu season can start as early as October. CHOC Children’s and the American Academy of Pediatrics urge that all children ages 6 months or older — that means practically everyone! — be immunized against influenza as soon as the vaccine is available. It is especially important for people who are at high risk of complications from flu to get the flu vaccine, including:

  • Pregnant women
  • People 50 years of age and older
  • People of any age with chronic medical conditions
  • People who are immunosuppressed
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • Health care workers

Further, to protect a baby, who cannot get the flu vaccine, make sure that everyone in your home, as well as daycare providers get a flu vaccine. This reduces the likelihood of your baby coming into contact with this common and unpredictable virus.

Lastly, take everyday preventive steps to stop the spread of germs.

  • Wash your hands often and use respiratory etiquette during flu season. There are many other respiratory viruses out there besides the seasonal flu, and the flu vaccine cannot protect against all of them.
  • Use hand sanitizer.
  • Postpone play dates with sick kids.
  • Wear appropriate outdoor clothing.
  • If you are sick with the flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading influenza to others.

Contact your pediatrician or health care provider to check when the flu vaccine is available.

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