No one enjoys taking a needle to the arm, but getting an annual flu shot has health benefits for you, your children and those around you. Let’s look at how you can improve the chances of you and your loved ones being free of influenza this year.
Flu hits children hardest
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control notes that child under age 5 who contract the flu often require medical care with an average of 20,000 kids a year needing hospitalization. Children under age 2 most commonly suffer the most complications, ranging for ear and sinus infections to pneumonia or worse. Children and adults with chronic health issues (diabetes, asthma, autoimmune disorders) are at the highest risk of the most severe complications.
That’s why the CDC recommends everyone older than 6 months of age receive an annual flu shot with only a few exceptions.
Why should you get an annual flu shot if you are in generally good health? Here’s why, using my own family as an example.
When my daughter was 2, she was diagnosed with a juvenile dermatomyositis, a rare autoimmune disease, and put on medication to lower her immune system in hope of resetting it to normal. Our doctor recommended all of our family, including our nanny at the time, receive a flu shot not only to help us lower our risk of catching influenza but also to help limit her potential exposure to the virus. That the same reason many daycares and schools require their employees to get the vaccine — to help prevent the kids they care for from getting the virus.
Flu shot, not the nasal FluMist
If needles make you squeamish or you just wanted to save your child the pain of a shot in the arm, the nasal flu vaccine (marketed as FluMist) has been a great option in recent years. Just a quick squirt of vaccine up the nose and … uh, oh.
While the nasal vaccine was recommended for most small children in recent years, new studies have shown FluMist ineffective. In fact, last year it may have only provided protection to just 3 percent of the children under age 17 who received it. By contrast, the overall effectiveness of the traditional flu shot was around 60 percent in 2015.
If you have a major issue with needles, seek out the intradermal flu vaccine. It’s a shot injected into the skin instead of the muscle, is just as effective as the traditional vaccine and — best of all — uses a needle that’s 90 percent shorter than the regular vaccine needle. Bad news for your wee ones — it’s only approved for adults ages 18 to 64.
Flu shot effectiveness
OK, 60 percent of effective doesn’t sound all that great but it’s pretty good given several factors.
To start with, no vaccine is 100 percent effective because of how individual bodies react to it and mutations of the virus. Influenza is particularly tricky because so many different strains of it exist, changing from year to year.
According to the CDC, “Experts must pick which viruses to include in the vaccine many months in advance in order for vaccine to be produced and delivered on time. … Because of these factors, there is always the possibility of a less than optimal match between circulating viruses and the viruses in the vaccine.”
Where to get the flu shot
Finding a place to receive the flu vaccine is not limited to your doctor’s or pediatrician’s office these days. Most major drugstore chains, such as CVS and Walgreen’s, offer walk-in clinics. Many urgent care facilities and even local government health centers offer shots. Many offer low-cost and even free vaccines with proper medical insurance.