6 Reasons Your Child Needs a Flu Shot Now

November 19, 2018 6:00 AM

Getting a flu shot is fast and easy. A U-M pediatrician explains why it’s also a crucial way to protect your little ones from a potentially serious health risk.

With fall in full swing, it’s prime time to get a flu shot.

But one-third of parents say they’re unlikely to seek vaccination for their kids this year, according to a new University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

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That’s a big concern, says Mott pediatrician Jennifer McDonald, M.D.

Some people may not realize how serious flu can be,” she says. “I point out to parents that thousands of kids are hospitalized every year with the flu.”

And the consequences can be life-threatening: A record-setting 180 children died from influenza last flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Less than 60 percent of children received the flu vaccine, even though it has been recommended for those ages 6 months and older since 2010.

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The nationwide Mott poll also found that 4 in 10 parents base their decisions about the flu vaccine on what they read and hear — and that family members, close friends and other parents are the most common sources that influence the decision.

Health care providers play a key role in conveying accurate messages and dispelling myths, the poll found.

“The vaccine is absolutely our best protection,” says McDonald, who shared more flu shot facts:

Benefits of flu shots for children

1. They’re an annual part of good health

Flu shots are needed every year — a frequency some families might not realize if their children aren’t already at the pediatrician annually, McDonald says.

Call your family doctor to schedule an immunization. You can also inquire at your child’s school or your area’s public health department about flu shot clinics that serve children. Then put it in the calendar.

2. They can be given to very young children

The minimum age for a flu shot recipient is 6 months. And there are few conditions that would prevent kids from getting one.

Says McDonald: “One exception would be a history of an allergic reaction to a component of the vaccine, which is extremely rare.” Some flu shots contain a small amount of egg protein but remain safe for kids with egg allergies, federal guidelines say.

3. They protect vulnerable populations

Getting vaccinated doesn’t just help your child. It also keeps your child from spreading the nasty — and potentially dangerous — virus around.

SEE ALSO: 3 Times You Risk Catching the Flu

You’re protecting others, including infants who can’t get the vaccine or people that might be susceptible,” such as immunocompromised patients and the elderly, McDonald says. That notion can ease the brief sting of the shot.

4. They are effective (even if imperfect)

Because scientists must predict in advance what flu strains will circulate in the United States, the effectiveness of each season’s vaccine can vary.

In most years, “they’re about 40 to 60 percent effective,” McDonald says, adding that similarities among strains can still help some flu shot recipients endure a less serious course of illness if they contract the virus.

5. They are extremely safe

First and foremost, a flu shot can’t make you sick. The shots are “made with components of inactivated influenza or a weakened virus,” McDonald says. “It absolutely cannot cause the flu.”

SEE ALSO: Make Sure Your Teen Has Had These 4 Lifesaving Vaccines

Still, about 15 to 20 percent of flu shot recipients may experience brief soreness and swelling at the injection site. Less than 1 percent will experience fever, chills and muscle aches.

6. They help avoid sick days

Although a stint bundled up on the couch might seem appealing to some youngsters, the prospect means missing important learning time at school (and lost wages for some parents).

McDonald also urges parents to think beyond minor inconveniences: “We know that these immunizations can reduce the risk of severe flu-related illness, hospitalization and death.”