The flu shot can be a hot topic of discussion in American homes. One thing is for certain: Either you always get the shot, or you don’t.
When it comes to vaccinating our children, it becomes a bit more heated. Many people have mixed feelings as to why they don’t get the flu shot and I am here to offer you some information to get you a head start in considering your options. Many parents are struggling with the choice of whether or not the battery of childhood vaccinations is safe, and this article is not presented to offer any sophisticated advice about that topic. I am offering some information about the flu shot that many don’t know.
For example, did you know that the flu vaccine for next year is already being manufactured? That’s right! How’s that even possible? Vaccine manufacturers look at the strains of flu that were prevalent during this flu season and give their best “shot” at predicting what will be prevalent next year. It’s gambling; they are betting on which flu viruses will be going around. These manufacturers are pretty good at guessing but sometimes they are a little off.
Did you also know that it’s possible for you to get the flu shot and still get the flu? There are several reasons why this might happen. The most common reason you may get the flu after getting the flu shot is that you already have the flu at the time of getting the shot. That’s why it is really important to tell your healthcare provider of any pending illness that you have prior to getting the shot or any fever that you have upon getting the shot. Another common reason that you may get the flu after getting the flu shot is that you may get exposed to the influenza virus during the two-week period after getting the vaccination that it takes the body to develop immune protection. The third explanation for experiencing flu symptoms after vaccination is that the flu vaccine can vary in how well it works. The final reason that persons may get the flu in spite of getting the flu shot is that persons some get flu viruses different than the ones that they are vaccinated against. “How is that possible?” you say.
Here’s some explanation: The seasonal flu vaccination typically provides protection against type A, B, and C and some type of H and N subgroup. There are an estimated 16 different types of flu viruses that can circulate annually. The flu vaccine, however, only provides protection against three to four types. Given this information, kids who get the vaccine and still get the flu will typically experience much less severe symptoms and shorter duration of symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This is especially important for children with chronic illness, such as asthma and other respiratory ailments. All children ages 6 months and older should see their pediatrician for flu vaccine starting around early September, as flu season runs from October to May. It’s best for kids to get the flu shot early as it takes their immune systems two weeks to start protecting them from the flu. The flu vaccine is not a perfect tool but is the best way to protect against flu infection.
An issue with flu this year was the necessary closing of schools in our area. Many schools were closed for sanitation due to the rampant spread of the flu. The flu is a virus that is spread easily by person to person contact, airborne, or contact with bodily fluids of a sick person. This makes children especially vulnerable to the spread of this dreaded bug. What makes the flu so dangerous? Well, bacterial infection of the lungs is the number one danger. Additionally, other organ infections can be as dangerous, including infection of the heart and brain. This is why it is of critical importance to prevent the spread of flu when possible.
Figured in to the impact of the flu is the impact on the United States economy. Each year the flu costs the United States approximately $10.4 billion in direct costs for hospitalizations and outpatient visits just for adults, with the costs for children more than double. The cost for breakdown for a family visiting an emergency room averages $753 with additional dollars spent on prescription drug costs. Additional costs can be calculated for lost wages and other expenses for over-the-counter drugs. For those patients requiring in-patient hospitalization, well, you get the idea where this is going.
What are the risks associated with getting your children vaccinated? While almost all people who get the influenza vaccine have no serious problem from it, some people may have an allergic reaction to it. You should talk to your child’s doctor or nurse prior to having them vaccinated if you have these concerns and they will provide you with necessary information. The most common side effects from the flu shot are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling at the site where the shot was given. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches may also occur for a day or two as your immune system begins to protect you from the flu virus. Does this mean that the flu shot actually gave my child the flu? Absolutely NOT! The flu shot that is given with a needle cannot give you the flu. The shots that are given with a needle are not made with any live flu virus.
In spite of all of the facts presented, some will not get the vaccine and there are ways to help stop the spread of the flu. You should stay greater than 6 feet away from sick persons or wear face masks when you or your children are sick. Wash your hands frequently during cold and flu season and instruct your children to do so as well. Encourage children to eat nutritious meals and to get plenty of rest, both of which are good for the immune system.
Now that we know that the flu vaccine is recommended for children, who else should get it? Anyone who works around children (especially daycare employees and teachers), pregnant women or women considering becoming pregnant, nursing mothers, persons with weakened immune systems, caregivers, and otherwise healthy adults and elderly adults. This article is has hopefully provided you with some tools that you can speak with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about regarding the flu shot so you can make informed decisions regarding your family’s health.
Kheysia H. Washington,
Retired Registered Dental Hygiene Professor