Flu Vaccine: Myth-Busters for Kids – By: Mary Ellen Pratt, FACHE, CEO
The flu virus is common and unpredictable, and it can cause serious complications and death—even in healthy children. Despite studies proving that flu vaccinations are a lifesaver, less than half of all children in the United States (and even fewer parents) are immunized each year. Fear and misinformation cause many families to take their chances with this potentially fatal respiratory virus.
THE MYTH The flu is not serious for children.
MYTH-BUSTER Each year an average of 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized because of flu complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 101 children died from the flu in the 2016-2017 season. Severe flu complications are most common in children younger than two, and children with chronic health problems, like asthma and diabetes, are at especially high risk of developing serious flu complications. An unvaccinated child is not only at risk but also can put others at risk. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual influenza immunization for all people ages 6 months and older, including children.
THE MYTH My baby already gets too many shots.
MYTH-BUSTER Doctors hear this from many parents, but they want moms and dads to understand that children ages 6 months to 5 years are at a high risk of serious flu-related complications like pneumonia, dehydration and hospitalization. A child’s immature immune system is still developing the ability to make antibodies to fight off sickness. That’s why kids 8 and under who are vaccinated for the first time need two separate doses at least 28 days apart. The first one primes their immune system, while the second starts providing protection. These children should receive their first dose as soon as the vaccine is available in their community, so that they have time to get the second dose before the flu season begins. The flu vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines, but at a different place on the body.
THE MYTH We didn’t get our kids vaccinated right away, and now it’s too late.
MYTH-BUSTER Flu can continue to spread as late as May. Getting vaccinated early is still a good idea, though, because it takes about two weeks for the body to develop antibodies to fight flu.
THE MYTH The vaccine can cause the flu.
MYTH-BUSTER It’s impossible for the killed/inactivated viruses in the flu shot to cause illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the side effects—which are mild and short-lived compared to the actual flu—indicate that your body is building up antibodies to fight the flu. The most common side effects are pain and tenderness at the site of injection. Fever is also seen within 24 hours after immunization in approximately 10% to 35% of children younger than 2 years of age but rarely in older children and adults. These symptoms are usually mild and resolve on their own in a couple of days. If you or your child truly gets sick with the flu soon after being vaccinated, it usually means the virus had entered your system prior to or shortly after you got the vaccine.
THE MYTH My child has an egg allergy and the vaccine will cause a reaction.
MYTH-BUSTER Children with an egg allergy can safely get the flu shot from their pediatrician without going to an allergy specialist. Even those with a history of severe egg allergy don’t have to treat flu vaccine differently than getting any other vaccine, because these people are not likely to have a reaction to the flu vaccine.
THE MYTH It won’t help. My vaccinated child still got sick last year.
MYTH-BUSTER No vaccine offers complete immunity. This is especially true for influenza because virus strains are constantly changing. Experts have to guess months in advance which strains to target. The good news—they’ve gotten it right 18 of the last 22 flu seasons. Even when it isn’t a perfect match, the antibodies produced in response to the vaccine can protect against related flu viruses.
THE MYTH The vaccine causes autism.
MYTH-BUSTER A robust body of research continues to show that the influenza vaccine is safe and is not associated with autism. No factual study has ever shown a connection between autism and vaccines containing thimerosal—a mercury-based preservative that keeps bacteria and fungi from growing in multi-dose vials of the flu vaccine. In fact, the 1998 study that first raised the fear about the MMR vaccine was retracted in 2010 after it was proven that the research findings were fabricated and erroneous. Subsequent studies conducted on thousands of children indicate that both vaccinated and unvaccinated children are equally at risk for autism.
THE MYTH I’m pregnant, and getting vaccinated could harm my baby.
MYTH-BUSTER Catching the flu while pregnant increases your risk of miscarriage and premature birth. Being sick is also dangerous for you. Your lungs and heart already work harder when you’re pregnant and influenza strains them even more, which can lead to pneumonia and hospitalization. Besides, when you get vaccinated, you pass flu-fighting antibodies on to your baby-to-be that can protect him or her up to four months after birth.
Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to the flu. St. James Parish Hospital offers a convenient, walk-in Flu Shot Fair every each October. After October, patients can simply make an appointment with their family physician’s office.
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