Q: [All Ages] I heard the flu vaccine mist isn’t effective on this year’s strain of the flu, but I’m concerned about the safety of the shot for my young child. Also, is January too late to bother getting the flu shot?
A: After reviewing four years’ worth of data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this year recommended against using the nasal spray influenza vaccine FluMist as an alternative to the injectable vaccine. The spray simply didn’t offer enough benefit. So if you want the greatest amount of protection that a vaccination can give you and your children, it seems, you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves.
For children aged 6 months to 2 years, this will not represent much of a change. The mist alternative was only available for people over the age of 2. But for school-age children, the shift from the spray to the shot might be met with some… consternation.
Nobody likes getting a shot, but what I tell my young patients is that the flu vaccine helps your body to fight off a particularly nasty and awful vaccine, reduce its severity or, at least, limit its duration. For that reason, health officials recommend the flu vaccine for everyone over 6 months old, including pregnant women.
What I don’t tell my patients, for obvious reasons, is that the influenza virus claims the lives of 3,000 to 50,000 people each year, depending on the severity of the season. The most vulnerable are the very young and the very old. Instead of spelling this out, I try to make it clear that while the shot is momentarily uncomfortable, the alternative could be much worse.
Many parents express concern that the vaccine causes the flu. This is a common misconception. The flu virus contained in the immunization is inactive, meaning that it can’t give you the flu, but it can help train your body how to respond when the real thing comes around.
Flu season runs from October through May, so now is definitely not too late to get the shot. But since it takes two weeks for the vaccine to jump-start your immune system into making the antibodies that offer protection, you probably shouldn’t put it off another day.
Dr. Elizabeth Yanni, M.D. dual-trained specialist in internal medicine and pediatrics with Hoag Medical Group, treats her patients through their entire life spans. Her involvement with Hoag dates back to her volunteering days while attending UCI, where she earned her medical degree. www.HoagMedicalGroup.com