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Flu Shots for Kids?
Q: I've heard talk about getting a flu shot, but thought it was mostly for old people. Do children ever get it? How do I know whether my child should receive it?
A: The flu (influenza) vaccine is strongly recommended for any person six months or older at increased risk of having the flu. This may be age-related (e.g., geriatric patients) or those with underlying medical conditions. In pediatrics, we particularly target children with significant heart disease, with compromised lung-function (e.g., cystic fibrosis or severe asthma), and with other chronic diseases. The timing is perfect for getting a flu shot. It is important for people to get the vaccine now, so that when flu season strikes, our body has already had time to make "protection" antibodies.
The contraindications to receiving the vaccine are allergic reactions to previous flu shots or immediate allergy to eggs or egg-products. The side-effects of the shot are infrequent and not severe--including fever, tiredness, and muscle ache beginning 6-12 hours after the vaccination and persisting for 1 or 2 days. The vaccine is effective in preventing disease, but not against all flu strains. Even if you were vaccinated last year, it doesn't fully protect against the strains that might be a problem this year. Immunity does go down during the year following vaccination, so you need one shot every year to help be protected.
Once the decision is made to receive the flu vaccine, understand that children less than nine years of age who are receiving the flu vaccine for the first time need to have two doses administered at least one month apart. This allows these previously unvaccinated children to make appropriate amounts of antibody. One might also consider immunizing all people living in the home, so as to minimize flu exposure for everyone. Please check with your child's doctor if you think your child is a candidate for it. Now is the time to get the flu shot!
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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.