For a child, having the flu is one of the few times that staying home from school isn't any fun at all, but it can also be dangerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an average of 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized each year from complications of the flu. The best way to avoid that situation is to help your child take preventative measures against contracting the flu and one of the best preventative measures you can take is to have your child vaccinated.
Does My Child Need a Vaccine?
The flu vaccine will protect your child from three different strains of the virus, depending on what strains researchers predict will cause the most illnesses in the upcoming flu season. The vaccine is generally recommended for:
- Children six months of age and older, but particularly children between the ages of six months and five years as they are the most susceptible to getting sick.
- Children who have a long-term health condition such as diabetes or asthma.
- Children who were born prematurely and may develop lungs problems if stricken with the flu.
- Children who have been placed on long-term aspirin therapy and may develop Reye syndrome if stricken with the flu.
- People who come into contact with children on a daily basis such as teachers, nannies, daycare providers and even family members.
Certain children are not eligible for the flu vaccine, including:
- Those under the age of six months.
- Those who have an egg allergy.
- Those who have Guillain-Barre syndrome.
- Those who have had a serious reaction to a previous flu vaccine.
The CDC recommends that you get the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available in your area. It can take up to two weeks for your body to develop antibodies against the flu, so it's best to get it before the flu season, which can start as early as October.
Preparing for the Vaccine
Before getting your child vaccinated, you should decide how you want the vaccine administered. The vaccine is available in shot form, but if you want your child to avoid the usual trauma that comes with getting a shot, you can also have it administered through a nasal spray. Here are the requirements for each form:
- Nasal spray: Also known as FluMist, this form is only available to children who are two years of age or older. If your child is between the ages of two and four and suffers from a long-term health condition, a nerve or muscle disorder, has a weak immune system or is on a long-term aspirin treatment, then he or she is not eligible for the nasal spray vaccine. Also, if your child has a runny or stuffy nose, they will not be administered the nasal spray.
- Flu shot: Flu shots are the old-fashioned way of getting vaccinated. If your child is getting the pneumococcal vaccine, also known as PCV13, at the same time as the flu shot, be aware that the risk of seizure caused by fever is increased.
If your child is a first-timer between six months and eight years of age, or if your child did not receive the vaccine last year, then two doses of the vaccine will be needed for the upcoming season. The first dose should be administered at the beginning or before flu season with the second dose following at least four weeks later.
Children who receive two doses may be able to receive the vaccination in both forms if they are over two years of age.
After the Vaccine
Generally, side effects from the vaccine are very mild and most people don't experience any side effects at all. Side effects will last only a day or two before wearing off. Because the nasal spray vaccine is created from a live virus, your child may experience flu-like symptoms such as:
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose
Side effects commonly associated with the flu shot include:
- Muscle aches
- Mild fever
- Itching, redness and soreness at the injection site
Just because your child has been vaccinated doesn't mean that he or she still can't catch the flu. It only means that your child's body is better prepared to fight off the virus. Here are other preventative measures that will help you and your child avoid the flu:
- Wash your hands often. Make sure your child uses soap and washes for 15-to-20 seconds. Since your child can't wash often at school, stick a small bottle of hand sanitizer in his or her backpack.
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Make sure your child uses a tissue or the crook of the arm to do so.
- Don't share eating utensils with others. If someone in your family is sick, make sure your child does not share any cups or eating utensils with that person and make sure he or she doesn't share those things at school.
Although your child may kick and scream at the idea of getting a shot, it is the best way to protect him or her from contracting the flu. By getting vaccinated and by taking extra precautions during flu season, you and your family will be ready to fight the flu.