This year’s vaccine is readily available at area pediatricians’ offices, clinics and retail pharmacies and prevents three flu strains: H1N1 pandemic, H3N2 and B seasonal influenza.
Everyone 9 years of age and older needs one dose of flu vaccine this year. Children age 6 months through 8 years need two doses (four weeks apart), unless they received two doses of seasonal and at least one dose of H1N1 vaccine last year, in which case they only need one dose. Parents can choose from two different flu vaccines depending on their child’s age and medical history. The nasal-spray flu vaccine is recommended for healthy people ages 2 through 49 years, who are not pregnant, and the flu shot is recommended for people ages 6 months and older.
“For the first time, all Americans older than 6 months of age are recommended to receive influenza vaccine,” said Dr. Carol Baker, executive director of the Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research at Texas Children’s Hospital and chair of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “While it’s still too early to tell how severe this flu season is going to be, we’re all at an advantage this year since there is plenty of flu vaccine available and the vaccine content appears to “match” the viruses in the United States. The more people who get vaccinated early, the better the virus can be contained.”
Studies show that by giving school-age children flu vaccine, an entire community can be protected. Baker, who is also professor of pediatrics, molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, says that vaccinating these children is important since schools are known to be a prime location for the spread of influenza infection.
While vaccination is the most powerful way to protect children and prevent them from getting the flu, now is the right time to reinforce good hand hygiene and cough etiquette practices with children, she said. Making sure they wash their hands for the length of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice and reminding them to cover their coughs, sneeze into their elbows and avoid touching their face are just a few hygiene tips that, in addition to vaccination, can aid in preventing flu virus from spreading.
Baker and her colleagues are reminding parents that the flu is not always as harmless as some people think. While the virus can be mild in most cases, even some healthy children who contract the flu suffer several days from fever, poor appetite and muscle aches and do not return to school for about a week. In other cases, there are more severe complications such as pneumonia, high fever or seizures, and in some instances, death.
It is estimated that each year approximately 10 to 40 percent of healthy children in the United States will get the highly contagious flu virus and the CDC estimates that nearly 1,200 children died from the flu last year.
“There is just no reason why any child should have to suffer needlessly from flu-related complications when there is plenty of vaccine available,” said Baker. “The flu vaccine is safe and children are at a far greater risk of experiencing serious complications from the flu than they are of encountering significant side effects from the vaccine.”
Baker also reminds parents that the minor discomfort children endure after receiving the flu shot or nasal vaccine is so small compared to the weeks of hospitalization that flu can sometimes cause. She says that if parents suspect their child has the flu, they should monitor the child for fever, coughing/sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches and body aches, chills, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea. Children with mild flu symptoms do not have to see a pediatrician, but should get plenty of rest, drink lots of clear fluids and be given fever-reducing medications. Children with chronic medical conditions and children with more serious symptoms should consult medical care.
Parents can find more information about flu and vaccination by visiting vaccine.texaschildrens.org. Additionally, they are encouraged to contact their child’s pediatrician if they have concerns about the flu season or vaccination.
About the Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research
The Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research at Texas Children’s Hospital promotes healthier children and families by providing parents and health care professionals with the latest information and recommendations on vaccines for infants, children, adolescents, pregnant women and adults and by conducting research that contributes to effective vaccine delivery models. Information is available on its Web site, www.vaccine.texaschildrens.org. An ongoing program, the center is the creation of four Texas Children’s Hospital physicians who are experts in the fields of vaccine education and research, pediatrics, infectious diseases and adolescent medicine.
About Texas Children’s Hospital
Texas Children’s Hospital is committed to a community of healthy children by providing the finest pediatric patient care, education and research. Renowned worldwide for its expertise and breakthrough developments in clinical care and research, Texas Children’s is nationally ranked in all ten subspecialties in U.S.News & World Report’s list of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. Texas Children’s also operates the nation’s largest primary pediatric care network, with more than 40 offices throughout the greater Houston community. Texas Children’s has embarked on a $1.5 billion expansion, Vision 2010, which includes the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute™, a comprehensive obstetrics facility focusing on high-risk births and a community hospital in suburban West Houston. For more information on Texas Children’s Hospital, go to www.texaschildrens.org. Get the latest news from Texas Children’s Hospital by visiting the online newsroom and on Twitter at twitter.com/texaschildrens.