You might have heard by now that getting flu vaccinations for your kids is a little different this year. Back in June, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended against using the nasal flu vaccine (FluMist) because it hasn’t been very effective in the past and isn’t believed to be effective against the strains predicted to come this year.
That means injectable vaccines, or “flu shots,” is the only option. This is a big change, as the CDC estimates that nearly one-third of all kids who get the vaccine had received the nasal spray. However, the CDC also found that while the flu shot was more than 60 effect effective in preventing influenza, FluMist’s success rate was less than 5 percent.
While shots are no fun, it’s still important for anyone over 6 months old to get vaccinated. Just having the flu is a miserable experience — with fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches and fatigue being among the symptoms — and the CDC says more than 20,000 children under age 5 are hospitalized each year because of it. Several flu-related deaths are also reported. The risks are amplified for kids who already have chronic health problems like asthma, diabetes or disorders of the brain or nervous system.
Is the flu vaccine safe?
In recent years, there have been a lot of passionate arguments surrounding the safety and necessity of vaccinations. Even though vaccines have been shown in multiple studies to be very safe, some parents have questioned this, believing that vaccines contain harmful chemicals and can cause conditions like autism.
The effect of this has stretched beyond influenza to the point where we’ve seen outbreaks of measles and pertussis (whooping cough), diseases that had been nearly eradicated.
As for flu vaccines, let’s address a couple of common issues sometimes raised.
Mercury is not a concern. Most brands of flu vaccine do not contain any mercury. When it is present, it is in the form of thimerosal, a preservative used in multidose vials. Research has shown that thimerosal does not cause developmental conditions like autism.
The vaccine will not give you the flu. It’s true that there can be some side effects to the vaccine — including flulike symptoms — and that some people who get the vaccine to will still go on to contract influenza, the vaccine itself does not result in influenza. It’s more likely that people who experience vomiting and diarrhea have the “stomach flu,” which tends to be confused with influenza “flu.”
If you have any other concerns about vaccines, be sure to discuss them openly with your health care provider.
Scared of needles?
Having a child who is afraid of needles makes the process a lot more difficult. Here are some tips to help ease their fears and get them through it:
Be honest: Kids know there might be some pain involved, so instead of trying to convince them otherwise and then losing their trust, address their concerns full-on. Let them know it’ll just hurt for a few seconds and keep a positive, supportive attitude the whole time.
Be early: If possible, try to schedule the shot for early so that you and your child aren’t waiting around all day and building up anxiety. This also can help you avoid long lines, which can make any situation more stressful.
Be efficient: After the shot, make sure your child knows you’re there to comfort him and make it all better, but then quickly move on to something else. Getting his mind on another activity might make him forget he just had a shot.
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has primary care offices throughout southeast Wisconsin, including Mount Pleasent Pediatrics in Mount Pleasent, Wis. Find a pediatrician near you.
Learn more about Aaron Bauer, MD.