NPR: Time For Flu Shots
written by Tara Haelle, picture by FatCamera/Getty Images
The arrival of a new school year and cooler temperatures also means the arrival of flu vaccines in doctors' offices, pharmacies, clinics, work places, and school campuses. With flu season on its way, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued updated recommendations Monday for the flu vaccine — but without the needle-free option so many parents were hoping for.
Parents and pediatricians both may be dismayed to hear that the FluMist nasal vaccine is once again not recommended.
"It's a disappointment that it wasn't as effective as we thought it was going to be, and it's a disappointment that we don't get to offer a poke-free opportunity for the vaccine," says Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, executive director of digital health at Seattle Children's Hospital. Scientists discovered last year that FluMist did not protect aganst H1N1 infections in 2013-2014 and 2015-2016, and was weak against other strains.
But that's not a reason to skip the vaccine altogether. Parents of children with needle phobia should be honest that the shot will hurt, but only briefly, she says. A quick tip: to help manage pain, distract your kid by telling them to pretend to blow out birthday candles at the moment they get the stick, Swanson says.
It may also help to tell children old enough to understand that the vaccine's purpose is to stop them and people around them from getting very sick.
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Children most at risk for hospitalization from the flu are those with conditions like asthma, chronic lung disease and neurological or neuromuscular disorders, explains Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, chief of the pediatric infectious diseases section at Children's Mercy Kansas City.
Parents should get their children vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available in their area, Jackson, Swanson and Bernstein all emphasize. Even if it feels too early right now, there is no evidence that the vaccine's immunity wears off in children before the end of flu season, and there is no way to tell exactly when the flu will arrive in any particular community.
"Influenza epidemics are inevitable," Jackson says. "They happen every year but they're unpredictable in five ways." No one can guarantee when the season will begin, how severe the disease will be, how long the season will last, which viruses will circulate, and how well the circulating strains and vaccine strains will match.
Learn more about the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children's Mercy.