Do children really need the flu shot?

Influenza or flu as it’s more commonly known, is a contagious respiratory illness that is caused by influenza viruses. The influenza viruses infect the nose, throat and lungs. The flu can range from mild to severe with some serious cases resulting in hospitalization and even death. The most common symptoms of flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuff nose, muscles or body aches, headaches, fatigue and in some children, vomiting and diarrhea.

According to the American Lung Association <> , nearly 200,000 people in the US are hospitalized each year because of the flu and anywhere from 3000 to 49,000 people die from influenza or influenza related causes.

Young children are especially at risk and the best prevention for the flu is to get vaccinated every year. The recommendation for getting everyone older than six months vaccinated for the flu has been in place since 2010 under the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The CDC has voted for universal flu vaccination in the US.

Most parents ask the question: does my child need the flu shot? The answer, in most cases, is yes. You have the option to choose between a flu shot and a nasal spray vaccine. The flu shot can be given to children six months and older and the nasal spray flu vaccine can be given to children two years or older.

A child who has never had the flu vaccine and is younger than nine years is generally given two doses, four weeks apart. If a child has had the flu vaccine before or was vaccinated for the first time at nine years or older, then one dose is enough.

There are two types of vaccines available. Trivalent vaccines protect against three different flu viruses (an H1N1 and H3N2 and influenza B virus) while quadrivalent vaccines protect against four different flu viruses (two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses). 

Everyone over six months is recommended to be vaccinated <> for the flu annually. The flu vaccination is especially important for those who are at high risk for serious complications from influenza. Children younger than six months should not get the flu vaccination. 

The flu vaccine changes every year in order to keep up with the three strains of the influenza virus. That is why children should get vaccinated for the flu every year. The flu season lasts from Fall to Winter and there is a peak of infections from November to March. It is important to get vaccinated with the latest flu shot for effective protection.

Children should be given the flu vaccine as soon as it is available. The ideal time to get children vaccinated is by October. However, it can be done later and still protect children against the circulating flu viruses. Influenza generally peaks around January and it takes approximately two weeks after vaccination for the antibodies to develop in the body and start protecting the child against the infection. It is thus recommended that you get your children vaccinated well in time before the peak season starts.

There are several misconceptions about the flu vaccine. Some people say they don't need it and that the flu is not a big deal while others wrongly believe that the vaccine itself will give them the flu. There is also a misperception that the flu vaccine contains toxic levels of mercury, which is not true. It is important to ignore this information and get your children vaccinated against the flu. 

According to Marina Gafanovich, MD <> , a New York physician who also operates a physical exams and vaccinations center, "It's a serious health problem for adults and children. And it's preventable. We have a way for people to avoid unnecessary doctor's visits, to avoid unnecessary antibiotics, and to avoid hospitalization."