Vaccine still best way to prevent the flu
What you need to know to protect your family this year
The upcoming flu season leaves many questions, but one thing remains certain for Mary Suzanne Whitworth, M.D., the medical director of Infectious Diseases at Cook Children’s.
“Vaccinations are still the best answer to preventing the flu and protecting your children from the upcoming season,” Dr. Whitworth said.
The flu shot is recommended for children ages 6 months and older. However, the Centers for Disease Control says only 47 percent of the nation’s eligible population received a flu shot. The only age group that met the CDC’s coverage goal of at least 70 percent was children 6 months to 23 months of age with 75 percent getting their shot.
It’s important for babies to get their shots beginning at 6 months of age. Flu shots are not approved for younger infants,” Dr. Whitworth said. “Because these younger babies cannot be protected by getting flu shots, their caregivers and household contacts must get theirs. If those individuals who are around the baby don’t get infected with influenza, the baby is much less likely to be exposed. It’s especially important for pregnant women to get their vaccines in order to protect their newborns.”
Last year, a lot of talk focused on how ineffective the flu vaccine was, with the CDC saying it was less than 23 percent effective against the dominant strain. The CDC says the vaccine will be more effective this year based on data from early detected cases.
Dr. Whitworth says it’s too soon to predict what the flu season will bring as far as severity and it’s difficult to say how effective the vaccine will be because different strains circulate each year. But vaccines are still the most effective way to fight against the flu.
During the 2014-2015 flu season, 145 children died in the United States from influenza-related illness and the American Academy of Pediatrics says many of those children had no underlying medical condition. The AAP states that an estimated 90 percent of pediatric deaths have occurred in unvaccinated children.
Two types of influenza vaccines are available for children this year, according to the AAP:
- The inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV) is given by injection and is approved for children 6 months of age and older. It is available in two types, one which protects against three strains and one which protects against four strains of influenza.
- Also available is the live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV), which is given by intranasal spray. It is approved for healthy patients 2 through 49 years of age and protects against four strains of influenza.
The AAP also recommends:
- Everyone who is 6 months of age and older should receive annual influenza vaccine.
- Children ages 6 months through 8 years need two doses this flu season, if they have had less than 2 doses of flu vaccine before July 2015.
- Special efforts should be made to vaccinate household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children with high-risk conditions, and all children under the age of 5.
- Parents should not delay immunization in order to receive a specific vaccine formulation. It is more important to be vaccinated at the earliest opportunity.
- Pregnant women, who are at high risk of influenza complications, can safely receive influenza vaccine at any time during pregnancy. This also provides protection for their infants during their first 6 months of life.
- Mandatory influenza immunization programs for all health care personnel should be implemented nationwide.
About the source
Mary Suzanne Whitworth, M.D. is the medical director of Infectious Diseases at Cook Children’s, which offers care for children and teens with diseases caused by bacteria, parasites, fungi or viruses. Our team provides a broad range of services including diagnosis, inpatient and outpatient consultations, immune deficiency evaluations and treatment of recurring infections.