Why Your Family Should (Still) Get a Flu Shot
A pediatrician answers 3 questions about the flu virus and vaccine
This year’s flu vaccine effectiveness has been questioned.
“Should I even bother getting the vaccine,” I get asked.
“Yes. You should definitely still get your child’s flu vaccine.”
Is it going to be a bad flu season?
Widespread influenza activity is present in 46 states, including Texas. Hospitalizations for influenza associated illness are on the rise, with nearly 4,000 reported. Children under 5 (as well as adults over 65) appear to be at the highest risk for hospitalization.
As of December 29, there were 13 pediatric deaths associated with influenza in the U.S. And it wasn’t just little babies either, six of those deaths occurred in children over 5 years of age. Only two of those children were known to have high risk conditions, which means that many of the deaths occurred in healthy children.
One of the major concerns, regarding the severity of the season, is that much of the circulating Influenza A virus is of the type H3N2. In previous years where H3N2 has been common, we have seen increased numbers of cases and more severe disease. Last week, more than 237 children tested positive for Flu A at Cook Children’s. Two weeks ago, 380 kids tested positive for Flu by our lab.
Is the flu vaccine coverage going to be terrible?
Scientists often use the previous flu season from Australia to predict what type of flu season and vaccine effectiveness we are going to have. You might have heard early reports that suggested that this year’s vaccine might only have 10 percent effectiveness. But, the important point to remember is that meager 10 percent only reflected activity against H3N2 and truly predicting which strain will be most common is tricky.
Another important factor to consider is that flu activity is regional. Influenza A activity nationwide is showing H3N2 activity at 7,012 out of 7,754 overall cases, or 90 percent. But, in region 6 (of which Texas is a part), H3N2 was present in 466 of 589 or 80 percent of Influenza A cases. Still not great, but there’s plenty of vaccine preventable flu out there.
So, will the vaccine coverage be terrible? Maybe, but we won’t know for sure until the end of the year and I believe there is evidence to suggest that it will be better than the 10 percent estimates we were reporting earlier in the year.
Should I still get my child’s flu vaccine?
Flu vaccine is an important part of protecting our children from this terrible disease.
Your child will almost certainly be exposed to the flu this year, and probably multiple times. Flu causes serious illness, even death. Even if the coverage was only 10 percent (and I think it will be better), I would still recommend it. Flu vaccine has been proven, even in bad years, to prevent flu-associated death in pediatric patients.
Flu vaccine cannot cause flu. It is an injectable, killed virus which cannot cause infection. Side effects might include soreness at the injection site, low grade fever and mild body aches.
You still have time. We expect flu activity to be increasing over the next few weeks, possibly even into mid to late February. Once you get the vaccine, it takes about two weeks before your protection is up and going.
So, call and get the vaccine today…for you and your children.
Get to know Justin Smith, M.D.
Justin Smith, M.D., is a pediatrician in Trophy Club and the Medical Advisor for Digital Health for Cook Children's in Fort Worth, Texas. He has an active community on both Facebook and Twitter as @TheDocSmitty and writes weekly for Cook Children's checkupnewsroom.com. He believes that strategic use of social media and technology by pediatricians to connect with families can deepen their relationship and provide a new level of convenience for both of their busy lifestyles. Dr. Smith’s innovative pediatric clinic, a pediatric clinic “designed by you,” open now. Click to learn more. To make an appointment, call 817-347-8100.