SHOULD ALL KIDS GET A FLU VACCINE?
What Is the Flu?
Influenza — what most of us call “the flu” — is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract.
Why Is the Flu Vaccine Recommended?
While the flu vaccine isn’t 100% effective, it still greatly reduces a person’s chances of catching the flu. It also can make symptoms less severe if someone does still get the flu after immunization.
Even if you or your kids got the flu vaccine last year, that won’t protect you this year, because flu viruses constantly change. That’s why the vaccine is updated each year to include the most current strains of the virus.
Sometimes the same strains are included in the vaccine one year after the next. In this case, it’s still important to get a seasonal flu shot because the body’s immunity against the influenza virus declines over time.
When Should I Get the Flu Shot?
Flu season runs from October to May. It’s best to get a flu vaccine as early in the season as possible, as it gives the body a chance to build up protection from the flu. But getting a flu vaccine later in the season is still better than not getting the vaccine at all.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends a flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older (instead of just certain groups, as was recommended before).
But it’s especially important that those in higher-risk groups get vaccinated to avoid health problems as a result of the flu. They include:
- all kids 6 months through 4 years old
- anyone 65 years and older
- all women who are pregnant, are considering pregnancy, have recently given birth, or are breastfeeding during flu season
- anyone whose immune system is weakened from medications or illnesses (like HIV infection)
- residents of long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes
- any adult or child with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma
- kids or teens who take aspirin regularly and are at risk for developing Reye syndrome if they get the flu
- caregivers or household contacts of anyone in a high-risk group (like children younger than 5 years old, especially those younger than 6 months, and those with high-risk conditions)
Babies younger than 6 months can’t get the vaccine, but if their parents, other caregivers, and older kids in the household get it, that will help protect the baby. This is important because infants are more at risk for serious complications from the flu.
It is important for pregnant woman to let their doctor know about her pregnancy before the flu shot, because certain flu vaccine brand have not yet been tested for pregnancy while some other have.
When to Delay or Avoid Flu Immunization?
Talk to your doctor to see if the vaccine is still recommended for your child:
- If your child is sick and has a fever
- If your child has ever had a severe reaction to a flu vaccination
- If your child has Guillain-Barré syndrome (a rare condition that affects the immune system and nerves)
In the past, it was recommended that anyone with an egg allergy talk to a doctor about whether receiving the flu vaccine was safe because it is grown inside eggs. But health experts now say that the amount of egg allergen in the vaccine is so tiny that it is safe even for kids with a severe egg allergy. This is especially important during a severe flu season.
Still, a child with an egg allergy should get the flu shot in a doctor’s office, not at a supermarket, drugstore, or other venue.
Possible Side Effects of the Flu Vaccine
The flu shot contains killed flu viruses that will not cause someone to get the flu, but can cause mild side effects like soreness, redness, or swelling at the injection site. A low-grade fever and aches are also possible. Very rarely, the flu vaccine can cause a severe allergic reaction.
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