Prepare Now for Flu Season with Vaccine Protection
By Jean Yaeger
Getting a flu shot every year is the best way to fight off the influenza viruses that can cause serious complications, especially for children ages 5 and younger.
The flu vaccine works to prevent you from catching the flu – or, reduce the severity if you do come down with the illness. Adults and children as young as 6 months old are urged to get the flu shot by the end of October.
Brandi Falk, M.D. at Cook Children’s Pediatrics McKinney emphasizes the importance of coming in for a flu vaccine before the flu typically starts spreading. Flu season generally extends from November through May. Shots are available now by appointment at pediatrician offices, neighborhood clinics and pharmacies.
“The flu is a virus, and we actually pass it through tiny droplets that we make when we cough or sneeze or talk,” Dr. Falk said. “It's important that parents know that everyone is at risk.”
Flu is a contagious respiratory infection that can cause fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, dizziness, loss of appetite, tiredness, cough, sore throat, runny nose, nausea or vomiting, weakness, ear pain or diarrhea. Dr. Falk pointed out that it can last two weeks or more, and it’s worse than having a cold. Sinus problems, ear infections, dehydration and difficulty breathing also can develop, potentially requiring hospitalization.
“A question I get asked from parents a lot is, ‘Why do I need to do the flu vaccine?’ I tell them that it can lead to life-threatening symptoms like pneumonias and inflammation around your heart, around your brain and your muscles,” she said.
In the 2021-2022 flu season, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded 31 pediatric deaths caused by flu. Most of those cases -- ranging in age from 2 months to 16 years -- involved at least one underlying medical condition that put those patients at higher risk for flu severity, such as asthma, heart disease or weakened immune system.
Last year saw a drop in the percentage of children and teens protected against the flu. The CDC reports that 55.3% of those eligible received their flu shots, down from 57.3% previously.
Dr. Falk explained a few key points:
- You can’t catch the flu from the flu shot. “The flu shot is an inactive vaccine. So that means that the viruses inside it are killed.”
- Potential side effects, usually mild, include soreness, redness or swelling in the arm or leg where the injection went in. The vaccine might also cause brief headaches, fever, nausea and muscle aches.
- After the vaccine, it takes two weeks to build up the antibodies that fight off the flu. That’s why it’s important to get immunized early. “By the time the flu starts getting more prevalent, you're already protected,” Dr. Falk said.
It’s important for the whole family to receive a flu vaccine annually, she said. Patients can receive the vaccine in combination with other vaccines at their checkup or by scheduling a nurse visit. First-timers who are younger than age 9 will need two doses, a month apart. Kids 9 and older need only one dose.
For those who want to avoid needles, the nasal spray flu vaccine might be an option. The flu mist cannot be given to children under age 2 or to people with asthma, certain chronic illnesses or weakened immune systems.
Flu vaccines protect against two influenza A viruses, and two influenza B viruses. The vaccine’s composition is updated each year to protect against what is expected to be the most common viruses in circulation.
In addition to vaccination, Cook Children’s recommends these hygiene practices for flu prevention:
- Wash hands with soap thoroughly and often, especially after using the bathroom, after coughing or sneezing, and before eating or preparing food.
- Never share cups and eating utensils.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then put the tissue in the trash.
- Cough or sneeze into your upper arm, not your hands, if a tissue isn't handy.
And … If your child is sick, stay home from daycare or school. Make sure your child drinks lots of liquids, gets plenty of sleep and takes over-the-counter meds to alleviate symptoms.
There’s no guaranteed way to avoid the flu. But getting the vaccine every year can help. At Cook Children’s, we believe that flu vaccinations are the safest, easiest way to protect everyone age 6 months and older from serious flu symptoms. And a flu vaccination during pregnancy helps protect your newborn baby from flu for several months after birth.
Immunizations and other services are available at Cook Children’s neighborhood clinics and primary care sites across Fort Worth and beyond. Find a location near you: Primary Care Offices/Neighborhood Clinics (cookchildrens.org)
Dr. Brandi Falk grew up in Noblesville, Indiana. As a child, she dreamed of one day becoming a doctor. She even practiced on her family with her toy doctor's kit! Her dreams took a detour in high school when she decided to become an engineer. Dr. Falk attended college at Georgia Institute of Technology, majoring in mechanical engineering. After college, she worked as a mechanical designer at Lockheed Martin in Orlando, Florida. It didn't take long for her to remember those childhood dreams so Dr. Falk left engineering and began working as a nurse's aide at a home for severely developmentally delayed children in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was here that Dr. Falk decided to become a pediatrician.
In 2000, Dr. Falk started medical school at the University of Cincinnati. She remained in Cincinnati for her residency program at Cincinnati Children's Hospital. Dr. Falk practiced in the Northern Kentucky area for nine years before relocating to Texas for her husband's career. Dr. Falk has practiced in Lucas, Texas for the past five years.
Dr. Falk is married with two children and one dog. Her experience as a mother has helped her to become a better pediatrician. Dr. Falk's favorite thing about being a pediatrician is becoming a part of her patients' families. She enjoys working closely with parents and other caregivers to provide the best care for their children. In her spare time, Dr. Falk loves to cook, read and do jigsaw puzzles.