As the holidays approach, parents start to think of all the items they need to check off their to-do list: making travel arrangements, gift shopping, and sending holiday cards. What might not be top-of-mind for parents is protecting their children against influenza (flu) this season.
While most people tend to think about the flu when kids go back to school in the fall, influenza generally tends to peak in January or later and activity can last all the way through May.
We recognize December 6-12 as National Influenza Vaccination Week for this exact reason: if you or your children haven’t yet received the flu vaccine, there is still time to protect your family from this serious infectious disease. It is important to get vaccinated before influenza hits because it takes about two weeks after vaccination to be fully protected.
While anyone can get the flu, children tend to have the highest rates of infection. There is no way to know when or who influenza will strike, and no way to tell how a child’s body – healthy or otherwise – might handle this infection. For some, it can be mild, but for others, it could mean hospitalization or even death.
Despite the fact that getting vaccinated is the most effective way to keep yourself, your family, and your community free from flu this and every season, I continue to see many parents put stock into popular myths about influenza or the vaccine.
To help you make informed decisions about your families’ health, I’ve debunked the top five myths about influenza and the vaccine below:
- Myth: Flu vaccination is not necessary each year.
Fact: Vaccination is the first, and most important, step to protect your entire family against influenza each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual vaccination for everyone 6 months and older. In fact, the immune protection from the flu vaccine declines over time, so vaccination is necessary each year to ensure complete protection.
- Myth: You or your child can get the flu from the influenza vaccine.
Fact: The short answer is no; you can’t get the flu from the vaccine, whether you receive the injection or nasal spray. Influenza vaccination is safe, effective, and time tested. The influenza vaccine contains virus strains that are either inactivated (as in the injected vaccine) or weakened (as in the nasal spray) and matched to the most commonly circulating influenza viruses that year.
- Myth: If your child is healthy, he or she does not need to get the influenza vaccine.
Fact: Even healthy children are at risk for getting sick from influenza. Because immunity to the vaccine weakens, annual vaccination is a critical step to stay healthy. The CDC recommends that children aged 6 months through 8 years of age who did not receive at least one dose of the vaccine last season, should get two doses of vaccine approximately four weeks apart. (Check with your child’s health care provider to see whether your child needs one or two doses.)
- Myth: The flu is nothing more than just a bad cold or the “stomach flu.”
Fact: Influenza should not be confused with a bad cold or “stomach flu.” Influenza is more serious than the common cold and can cause high fever, head/body aches, coughing for days, and severe fatigue for up to two weeks or more. It is estimated that an average of 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized due to influenza complications.
- Myth: You should not receive the flu vaccine if you’re pregnant.
Fact: Influenza vaccination is the best and safest way for pregnant women to protect themselves from the flu. Pregnant women are more prone to severe illness from the flu, including hospitalizations and even death. Because children under 6 months of age can’t receive the flu vaccine, pregnant women who get vaccinated pass their immunity to their newborn baby.
During NIVW, I encourage those who have not been vaccinated yet to do so now.
To learn more about the importance of pediatric influenza vaccination, please visit www.PreventChildhoodInfluenza.org. I hope that you and your family have a happy and healthy holiday season.
By Dr. Carol J. Baker, Chair of NFID’s Childhood Influenza Immunization Coalition and Professor of Pediatrics, Molecular Virology and Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine