Influenza infection rates are higher in younger children, and even healthy kids can end up quite sick as a result of the flu. Unfortunately there is no specific cure or medicine for the Flu. so the best approach is prevention by a FLU SHOT or vaccine. Up until recently, only children with chronic medical conditions including asthma, heart problems and weakened immune or “body defense” systems such as AIDS, were thought to be at risk for flu related complications. Tragically, during the 2003-2004 season there were several deaths among young otherwise healthy children as a result of the flu in North America. It seems that the flu is even more dangerous to normal young children too. For this reason, national vaccination guidelines now recommend that all healthy children between 6 months to 23 months of age receive the flu vaccine.
How is the flu vaccine prepared?
Each year a different strain or type of Influenza virus arrives, often from Asia. In most cases, we can accurately predict which strains will arrive each season and prepare a vaccination to prevent that specific infection. Usually the vaccine contains 3 different strains of the virus. Because the virus strains change every flu season, a different vaccination is needed every year. In other words, last year’s vaccine will not protect against this coming season’s strain of influenza virus. This is why the vaccine needs to be given every year.
The flu vaccine is usually given in the fall season, sometime between October and December so people can be protected during the typical Flu season (January and March.) It takes up to 2 weeks for the vaccine to take effect and the protection lasts for about 6 months.
It is also important to note that the vaccine will not give you the flu. It is a killed vaccine (not a live one) and will not cause an influenza infection.
Children less than 9 years of age receiving the flu vaccine for the first time need two shots, at least one month apart. Everyone else needs only one shot.
The influenza vaccine is generally quite safe. Most people either have:
- No side effects OR
- experience local redness, swelling or soreness at the site of the injection.
Some people may complain of body aches and/or fever for a day or 2 following the injection. For more details on the possible side effects of the flu vaccine speak with your healthcare professional.
In children, the flu vaccine is about 80-90% effective in preventing influenza infection and about 62-73% effective in preventing illness with fever. However, even if a vaccinated child does develop the flu, it will be much milder than if he or she had not received the vaccine.
- The flu vaccine protects only against the influenza virus.
- It is still possible to contract the flu even after having been vaccinated.
- The vaccine will not prevent your child from getting a cold caused by other viruses. (So, if a child gets a cold after having been vaccinated it does not mean the vaccine did not work.)
Current national immunization guidelines recommend the flu vaccine for:
Canadian national vaccination guidelines currently recommend that all healthy children between six months and five years of age (six months to eight years of age in the US) receive an annual flu vaccine. Please check with your healthcare provider for specific details and updates. If you live outside Canada and the US, please check with your specific country’s recommendations.
The main point is that young and otherwise healthy children need to be vaccinated. In fact I feel that everyone should be getting the flu shot, as the more people vaccinated, the less the virus has a chance to spread in the community.Also healthy children of any age living with persons with chronic illness such as a heart condition, asthma diabetes or cancer, should also receive a flu vaccine in order to avoid spreading he flu virus to them.
Note that now there is a nasal spray version of the flu vaccine. This will make it easier as there will be no need for a needle! Please consult your doctor for more information.
FOR MORE DETAILS ON THE FLU VACCINE OR TO OBTAIN THE VACCINE FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY, PLEASE SPEAK TO YOUR HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL
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Pediatrician DR.PAUL Roumeliotis is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The information provided above is designed to be an educational aid only. It is not intended to replace the advice and care of your child’s physician, nor is it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect that your child has a medical condition always consult a physician.