To vaccinate for flu or not?

You can get sick with the flu even if you are vaccinated, so why bother getting the vaccine?

It’s true that the flu vaccine does not completely prevent influenza. In 2013-14 it prevented illness in 61% of people who were vaccinated. So if you are already a little nervous about giving your child yet another vaccine, knowing this fact might make you forego the vaccine altogether.

But there is no reason not to get the flu vaccine and plenty of reasons to protect your family by getting immunized this year.

The flu vaccine does not cause the flu

First, be assured that the vaccine is completely safe. You cannot get influenza from the vaccine. On rare occasion you can have a low-grade fever and muscle aches, which is actually a sign that your body is reacting appropriately to the vaccine and is making antibodies to fight off flu when you are exposed.

 

Even if you get the flu, you will be less sick

The immunity you get from the vaccine only lasts about 4 months, which is why you need an annual shot. The strains included in the vaccine are updated each year to correlate with the strains that are expected to circulate during the coming flu season. Most of the time the vaccine experts guess correctly and the vaccine is extremely effective. Unfortunately, last year the predominant strains mutated and were slightly different from the form in the vaccine. However, the strain of flu last year was similar enough to the strain in the vaccine, so vaccinated people who caught the flu had a milder illness than people who weren’t vaccinated.

Nice people get their flu shot

You perform a true humanitarian act when you get vaccinated. If everyone who can be vaccinated gets their flu vaccine, there are fewer infected people walking around the planet, so everyone is less likely to get sick. And for babies under age 6 months who can’t have the vaccine yet, vaccinating everyone around them is like building a cocoon. Parents, grandparents and siblings around a new baby can easily bring home both whooping cough and influenza. And while these diseases cause missed school days and general misery for older children, they can be deadly to a young infant.

Do you want your kids sick at home for an entire week?!

Finally, you might regret not getting the flu shot if your family gets influenza this season. It is a completely annoying, long-lasting illness and often is followed by a second infection, like an ear infection or pneumonia. So you will be sick a long time and it is very disruptive to life. Don’t kick yourself when your little one gets sick; immunize them now and you will have done your best to protect them.

What is Influenza?

Influenza is an acute respiratory illness caused by influenza A or B viruses, which occurs in outbreaks worldwide every year. Influenza is not like the typical adenoviruses and rhinoviruses that cause the common cold. Influenza causes more body aches and general misery, tends to last longer and causes far more complications, including death and severe illness.

If you choose not to immunize against flu, I’m very disappointed in you. Be sure to teach your unvaccinated children not to touch their face, eyes, or rub their nose. The best way to catch flu is to have it on your hands and put it directly into your mucus membranes. And see a doctor early if you suspect your child has influenza. Anti-viral medications can be helpful if they are started in the first 1 or 2 days of illness. However, anti-viral medications like Tamiflu have a lot of side effects, such as vomiting, so they may not be worth taking since they don’t improve symptoms very much.

Need help with symptoms? I can tell you how to unclog a stuffy nose and how to acurately dose fever medicine. Or perhaps you are interested in learning more about the rectal acetaminophen option!

 

TODAY.com Parenting Team Contributor

Author: Wendy Hunter, MD

Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, UC San Diego and pediatrician at Rady Children's Hospital, Department of Emergency Medicine.

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1 Comment

  1. wendyindurham@gmail.com'

    Great choice of a topic for the blog this week. Good information for all ages. People are curious about what they are hearing in the news about the CDC choosing the wrong strain of the flu for our vaccines and you did a wonderful job explaining that information. My kids are adults now but I love reading your blog – I always learn something. Maybe I can use this information for my grandkids one day.

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