by Ben Spitalnick, MD, MBA, FAAP
If school is back in session, then we know flu vaccine season is not far behind! Most years the flu vaccine starts shipping out to doctors’ offices and pharmacies late August to early September, and stays in stock until April. During this time, we look for any opportunity to get as many of our little ones protected from what can be a truly miserable infection. Influenza is the single most vaccine-preventable cause of death in the United States. It’s possibly the most important vaccine we have to offer, despite not being required for school. So, as flu vaccine season gears up, here’s a list of the of the most frequently asked questions that should help you navigate the upcoming season.
Who should get the flu vaccine?
Everyone, ages 6 months old and up. It’s important to receive it every year, to both boost immunity and to protect from any new strains added for the upcoming season. Also, if it’s your child’s first year getting the flu vaccine (which is expected in infants age 6-12 months old,) it’s recommended to get 2 shots in your first season, the second dose being 30 days or more after the first.
When is the best time to get my child the flu vaccine?
Sometime in the late Summer or early Fall, and the earlier the better. However, the even better time to get this vaccine is when you are going to be in the doctor’s office anyway. If your child has a checkup or other reason to be in sometime from now through November, then simply ask for your vaccine at that appointment. If you don’t expect to see your pediatrician in the upcoming fall months, you will want to come in for a “flu vaccine only” appointment (and we, like many pediatricians, will have these throughout the fall and winter as the vaccine becomes available). Some will rush into our offices the day we post they are available, but even if you don’t try to beat the rush, getting the vaccine in the next couple months is still good timing.
Is there such thing as “too early” to get the flu vaccine?
Not really, but there is such thing as too late. Years ago, doctors had a “start date” for flu vaccine season out of concern that immunity would wear off if given too soon. Now the data suggests otherwise, and the CDC recommends we start giving flu vaccines as early as they arrive in our offices. And here’s the thing, the flu vaccine can take at least a couple weeks to be fully effective, so if you wait until influenza is circulating you may be too late to achieve optimal protection.
Can I get the flu from the flu vaccine?
Nope. Doesn’t happen. You can certainly get vaccine reactions, from the flu vaccine or any vaccine, which can include chills, aches, even a low-grade fever, but not the actual flu.
I hear Flumist (nasal spray) is back, but which is better, the flu shot or the nasal flu spray vaccine?
So, great question, and it’s really hard to say because you never know for sure until after the season is well underway. The past two years, the nasal flu vaccine wasn’t used in the US because its effectiveness was way behind the shot. This year however, the CDC has approved both the shot and the nasal spray. As of this writing, the AAP is recommending the shot over the nasal spray vaccine for the upcoming season, so right now that’s where we stand. But as the season starts this may change. Bottom line, whichever flu vaccine your child receives this season is better than not getting any vaccine at all. And remember, the nasal spray vaccine is only for those age 2 years and up and is not for immunocompromised or wheezing or severe asthma patients.
Is the vaccine 100% effective in preventing my child from catching the flu?
Wish that were true, but nothing is 100%, including this vaccine. Yes, you could still catch the flu, and many do. I know that’s frustrating, because so many people question if they should get vaccinated the next season after they “catch the flu anyway”. But here’s the thing…
So, is the vaccine important if I could still catch the flu?
YES, and here’s why— it reduces your chance of death from the flu significantly. Over 80% of those hospitalized from the flu last year were not immunized. The stats speak for themselves (from the Flannery study in the April 2017 issue of the journal “Pediatrics”):
- A person hospitalized for flu is 2-5x more likely to die if they weren’t vaccinated.
- In a healthy child, the vaccine cuts the risk of dying from the flu by 65%.
The good news is we probably still have a while before we see any major flu outbreaks in our area. Most years we see it on and off in November through March (this past year though there was very little “off”, mostly “on”). So, get your family’s flu vaccine early this season, and keep an eye on our Facebook page for updates!