Does my healthy child need a flu vaccine?
John Po, MD, is an infectious disease physician on staff at Banner Estrella Medical Center.
Question: My children are all rather healthy and rarely get sick. With no real history of medical problems, is it still important for my children to be vaccinated against influenza?
Answer: Every year, influenza (the "flu") wreaks havoc on the health and well-being of children and families. Influenza is a viral infection that invades the entire body mainly through the respiratory system – this includes the nose, throat and lungs. The infection lasts typically just over a week, but in its worse form, can be prolonged and can result in serious complication. A yearly flu vaccine is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control for all children between the ages of 6 months and 18 years, yet only about 33 percent of children receive the vaccine.
The best thing you can do for your healthy children is keep them that way. Protecting your children against the flu (influenza) by getting them vaccinated is an effective way of doing just that. While it’s recommended that all children receive the flu vaccine, those who are most at risk for serious complications include young children (under the age of 5), as well as those with chronic illnesses (asthma, diabetes, heart and kidney problems, etc.) and weakened immune systems. Also at increased risk are children who are in close contact with kids in these groups.
The flu vaccine comes in two forms: a shot to the arm and nasal spray. The flu shot can be given to children over the age of 6 months, while the nasal spray can be given to children 2 years and older. Parents are encouraged to have their children vaccinated as soon as the seasonal flu vaccine becomes available in the fall.
In some cases, a vaccinated child will develop a low-grade fever and some malaise shortly after the shot that will last for a few days. This is not the same as "getting the flu" but rather, the child's immune system is a stronger immune system against the flu. This happens because the vaccine works by boosting the immune system so that the vaccinated child will be able to fight off the real virus quickly during the flu season. This will result in milder symptoms and a quicker recovery.
In some instances, some children are unable to receive the flu vaccine due to certain pre-existing allergies and illnesses. If you have any questions or concerns about protecting your children from the flu, or are unsure which type of flu vaccine is most appropriate, talk with your child's healthcare provider.