The influenza vaccine, also called the flu vaccine, is an effective way to reduce both the complications and severity of the flu. The following are some common questions we are asked about the vaccine.
What is influenza (flu)?
The flu is caused by a virus, which affects the nose, throat, and trachea/bronchi (these are the tubes that connect the mouth to the lungs). The typical symptoms include fever, stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, and hacking cough. Sometimes the symptoms may include muscle pain, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue.
The flu is typically seen in the US between December and April. There are many different strains of the flu in the community during each flu season. Also, the strains of the flu in our community are slightly different than the previous year. Thus, people can have the flu many times in their lifetime and perhaps more than once in a season.
Is a "cold" different?
The common cold causes similar symptoms to the flu but is caused by different viruses. Children with the flu tend to feel much worse, though colds can also make children feel miserable.
How is the vaccine made?
Since there are different strains of the flu in the community each year, a new vaccine has to be developed every year. Each spring, scientists predict which strains will be present in our country the upcoming winter. Usually three virus strains are included in the vaccine.
The injectible flu vaccine contains killed virus particles (inactivated). Thus, the vaccine CAN NOT cause the flu!
Who should get the vaccine?
As of 2008, it is recommended that all children between 6 months and 18 years of age receive the flu vaccine. Also, anyone living in a house with a child under 5 years of age should also receive the vaccine. In addition, there are certain children with health problems who have an increased risk of having complications from the flu. In order to reduce this risk, it is recommended that they (and everyone in their household) receive the vaccine every year. These children include those with:
- Lung disease (including asthma, reactive airway disease, recurrent bronchitis or pneumonia, cystic fibrosis)
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Metabolic disorders
- Blood diseases (including sickle cell disease)
- Immune problems
- A need for long term aspirin therapy (such as for arthritis or Kawasaki disease)
The flu vaccine can be given to children 6 months old and older.
When should the vaccine be given?
The vaccine should be given every fall, usually between mid/late October and Thanksgiving. It consists of a single shot unless your child is under 9 years old and receiving his/her first flu vaccine. In this case, two doses are given one month apart.
How long does the vaccine provide protection?
The vaccine requires at least 2 weeks before it provides protection against the flu. Maximal protection probably lasts at least 6 months. Even with the vaccine, it is possible to get the flu, but it will be a more mild case.
The vaccine does not provide protection from the many other viruses present during the winter which cause the common cold.
Is there an alternation to getting the flu shot with a needle?
Yes, we offer a Nasal Flu Vaccine. This is a live virus, nasal spray flu vaccine (no needles!). It is offered to children 2 years or older who have no chronic health issues. Please ask your practitioner or contact our office regarding its availability.
Do you offer Flu vaccines to parents?
Feel free to discuss the influenza vaccine with your pediatrician or nurse practitioner.