Don't Fear the Flu Shot
The flu shot is the best protection against the flu, but many parents remain skeptical
According to a new national survey by Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, a surprising number of parents are skeptical that the flu shot is effective and safe for children.
A third of the parents with children younger than 18 surveyed believe that the shot will not protect their children against the flu, and more than half think that their children can get the flu from a flu shot.
One reason for these misconceptions, according to Jean Moorjani, MD, a pediatrician at the Orlando children’s hospital, is that it can take about two weeks for the body to build up antibodies after getting the vaccine. If a child contracts the flu within that time, parents incorrectly assume that the shot was ineffective, or that the child got the flu from the shot.
According to Ellen Niemitalo, RN, BSN, immunizations manager with the Tulsa Health Department, the effectiveness of the vaccine can vary from year to year, depending on which virus is circulating. Even so, getting the vaccine can reduce the severity of illness.
The survey also found that 30 percent of parents surveyed question the safety of the vaccine, with 30 percent believing it is a conspiracy, while 28 percent believe it can cause autism.
Dr. Moorjani says, “After extensive studies, we know that the flu vaccine is safe. You cannot get autism from the flu vaccine. It is not a conspiracy for doctors to recommend the flu vaccine…It is the best way to protect yourself and your family against the flu.”
Niemitalo says, “Flu vaccine can be life-saving in children. A 2017 study showed that flu vaccination can significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from influenza. A 2014 study shows that the flu vaccine reduced children’s risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit admissions.”
Because of the protective value of flu vaccine, Niemitalo recommends that everyone older than age 6 months get the flu vaccine every year. “The flu vaccine is even more important for individuals who are at high risk of developing complications from influenza,” Niemitalo says.
High-risk individuals include children younger than age 5, adults age 65 and older, pregnant women, and those with medical conditions such as heart or lung disease, diabetes, weakened immune system or asthma.
In addition to having their children vaccinated to prevent flu, parents can teach children to frequently wash or sanitize their hands and practice cough etiquette by coughing or sneezing into their upper sleeve if a tissue is not available. Parents should also keep children home when they are sick and not expose them to others who are ill.
“Parents want to make the best decisions for their children, and protect their children from becoming ill,” Niemitalo says. “We want parents to feel comfortable and confident in their decision to get a seasonal flu shot for their children, which is why we [Tulsa Health Department] provide education and information in the community about the importance of flu prevention. A seasonal flu shot is the best protection against the flu for everyone 6 months and older. Additionally, our nurses really take their time with each client to speak about the benefits of the flu shot so parents understand the protection they’re providing to their whole family when everyone is vaccinated against the flu.”