PracticalDad:  A Flu Vaccines Primer

A major concern for a PracticalDad during the Fall season is setting up Flu vaccinations for the kids before the official flu season "kicks off" around January.  Anyone with a child in (pre-)school knows that these rooms are incredibly efficient germ incubators, even with stringent hand-washing follow-up by teachers.  There are cases in which the flu virus can wipe out a third of a classroom at any one time.  Consequently, it’s important to make sure that both you, your mate and your children receive the flu vaccine.  Fortunately, most kids can now receive the vaccine via a nasal inhaler.

Flu and its symptoms

More serious than a common cold, influenza – the flu – is a highly contagious virus spread through infected droplets from coughing and sneezing, or left on surfaces.  That means that any classroom with small children will be inundated with the germs when the flu season really takes off in January.  Any child with a true case of influenza can suffer from regular cold symptoms as well as fever, and can also have to deal with nausea/vomiting and diarrhea.  The flu’s duration will typicall last for several days with a resulting cough lasting up to two weeks.  Even before your child shows symptoms of the flu, he can be contagious and that contagion stage can last to five days after becoming sick.

Worse cases of the flu can develop into pneumonia and dehydration, requiring some hospitalization for further treatment.

Flu Vaccinations

In February, 2008 the Centers for Disease Control changed the recommended ages for children to receive the vaccine.  The previous suggested age range was for any child from six months to five years of age, but studies were finding that the illness rates for all children was up to three times that of adults.  The consequent change is for all children from six months to 19 years of age.

The start of the vaccination period is usually in September/October adn the vaccines are available through late December.  It would be better however, to have the vaccines given earlier since it generally takes several weeks for the immunity to build.  Additionally, a child receiving the vaccine for the first time will have to have two shots, one several weeks before the other in order to help prepare the body for the full effect of the vaccination.  After that, any further flu vaccinations will only have to occur once annually.

To find out about flu vaccine availability, contact your family doctor or pediatrician in early September and they should be able to tell you when vaccine clinics are scheduled; these will be run to improve the efficiency of vaccinating a large number of children at one time.  If you don’t have a physician, then contact your local health department and they can direct you.

How do the kids receive the vaccine?  Any child over the age of two – except for those with asthma or other chronic health problems – can receive the vaccine via a nasal inhaler, called Flumist.  Those younger than two, or with these problems, will receive a shot so expect a nasty but short interval of crying.  The Flumist vaccine is administered via the nostrils with a burst up each nostril, followed by a quick inhalation by the child.  The vaccine does not guarantee that your child will avoid the flu, but it can at least lessen the impact as the body has had an opportunity to develop some immunity to the virus.

What is your child is less than six months old?  In that case, the child should not have the vaccination; however, YOU should.  That way, you are protected and don’t have to take all of the extra precautions to ensure that the baby doesn’t catch it from you.

Yes, there is the possibility of a slight reaction to the vaccine, usually with the onset of minor cold symptoms, nausea or diarrhea  within about 24 hours.  One of my children responded to the vaccine with nausea the following day, but my wife and I deem that an acceptable risk versus the much higher likelihood of flu should there be no vaccination.  That same child has had to be admitted to the hospital for treatment of dehydration after becoming dangerously dehydrated.  There is a very small risk of a serious reaction to the vaccine, but these incidents are exceedingly rare.  If you do have such a concern, please speak to your family doctor or pediatrician for a better understanding of the risk.

I understand that parents have concerns about the long-term effects of vaccinating their children but our family’s practice has been to have the vaccinations since we have lived with the effects and after-effects of childhood flu.  If you do have such concerns, please contact your physician in order to address your concerns.

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