Should I Vaccinate My Child for Flu?

Dr Joseph Mizzi MD MRCP

What is flu?

Influenza is a infectious illness caused by the influenza virus. It spreads by coughs and sneezes. Flu often begins suddenly. The symptoms are fever, chills, aches, cough, sore throat and feeling generally unwell. Flu is different from colds. Colds are more common, start gradually with a sore a sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, and is usually less severe.

How bad would influenza be this year?

Influenza is around every winter. No one can predict how bad it would be. If it is a very bad year, it may amount to what is called an epidemic.

Who should be vaccinated?

Children with chronic medical conditions should be vaccinated because they are more likely to suffer from complications, such as pneumonia, which may require hospital treatment. Your child should be vaccinated if he has chronic heart and chest problems, such as severe asthma, and chronic medical diseases, including diabetes, and if your child has lowered immunity due to a disease or treatment such as steroid medication or cancer treatment. Children living in institutions should also have the flu vaccine.

Should a healthy child be vaccinated?

Flu vaccination is not generally recommended to healthy children as a routine. Flu is not usually serious in healthy children and it gives better long term protection than a flu vaccination. Infants less than 6 months are never given the influenza vaccine.

How does the vaccine work?

About a week after the vaccine is given, the child’s body makes antibodies to the three virus strains in the vaccine. These antibodies give protection when the child comes in contact with similar viruses. The protection lasts for about a year.

How effective is the vaccine?

Flu vaccinations are quite effective in preventing influenza infection. But one should keep in mind that there are many other different types of viruses that cause respiratory infections. The influenza vaccine can prevent one of five to 10 respiratory viral infections that young children may be expected to get annually. It is not a cold vaccine.

What are the side effects?

Flu vaccination is safe. Children with serious allergy to hens’ eggs should not receive the vaccine. The influenza vaccine has few side effects, with the most common being soreness at the injection site in about 25%. The child may also have fever and feel unwell, especially if he has not been previously exposed to the virus in the vaccine. These symptoms may begin 6 to 12 hours after vaccination and last one to two days. It is important to note that the vaccine does not contain any live virus, so it cannot cause flu.

When is the best time to vaccinate my child?

The best time is between late September and early November, before the winter. Children aged 6 months to <9 years receiving influenza vaccine for the first time require two doses a month apart