Should You Give Your Child The Flu Vaccine?

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As we head toward winter, health professionals and the public are anxious about another influenza season like 2017, when record numbers of Australians were diagnosed with flu.

The flu is usually a mild illness that leaves us out of action for a few days. But for some, especially the elderly and children, the flu can be much more severe. In fact, influenza kills more kids than the feared meningococcal infection.

This year, children aged between six months and four years will be eligible for free flu vaccines in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia.

In addition, children aged six months to four years who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (who are hospitalised from flu at twice the rate of other Australian children) and children of all ages with specific medical conditions are also eligible for the funded vaccine under the National Immunisation Program.

Other children in South Australia and the Northern Territory not covered under national programs can still access the vaccine from their GP at a small cost.

Why should I vaccinate my child?

Young children catch and spread the flu more than any other age group. Thousands of children are hospitalised every year; hospitalisation rates in children are much greater than in older people.

Being hospitalised is just the tip of the flu iceberg: many children will need emergency department or GP visits due to a high fever, cough, pneumonia and convulsions. Rare but severe complications such as encephalitis (life threatening brain inflammation) can also occur, and mostly in healthy children.

Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent flu. Those vaccinated are less likely to catch the virus and develop serious complications compared with those who are unvaccinated. The risk of flu is reduced, on average, by 50-60% in children receiving the vaccine.

Childhood flu vaccination programs have been shown to also protect others in the household and the community by 22-60%. This is called “herd” or “community” immunity and particularly helps protect vulnerable people who may be at risk of becoming seriously ill with the flu.

The influenza virus continually mutates, seeking to evade the immune system. Even if you have had flu infection in the past, antibodies generated from that infection may not recognise and fight off a recently mutated virus.

Every year, flu experts predict which viruses are going to be circulating and adjust which strains are included in the vaccine. If unexpected or changed strains circulate, the vaccine is less effective than predicted.

Even with moderate effectiveness, if the vaccine is given to enough people, it protects them and helps drive down the spread of the virus in the community.

Is it safe?

Childhood influenza vaccination was temporarily suspended in 2010 after an unexpectedly large number of children had high fevers. Some children also suffered seizures.

These events were due to a single of brand of vaccine, which was withdrawn from use in this age group and is no longer produced. All flu vaccines now used in children have extensive clinical trial data demonstrating their safety.

These events have been a catalyst for major changes in Australia’s approach to monitoring safety once vaccines are registered for use. Vaccine safety and side-effects are now tracked continuously through the AusVaxSafety program.

In 2017, only 6% of Australians receiving a flu vaccine reported side effects, with less than 0.5% concerned enough to contact a health professional. The side effects were well within the expected range, mostly mild and did not differ by vaccine brand.

The most common side effects in children are a mild fever, a sore arm and rash.

How do I vaccinate my child?

Flu vaccines are expected to be widely available from mid April or early May. They are available at your GP surgery, community clinic and pharmacy, depending on your age and state or territory program.

Children aged under nine years who have not been vaccinated before require two doses in their first year. In young children previously vaccinated, only one dose is required.

Children less than six months are not recommended to receive the influenza vaccine: the most effective way to protect those too young to be vaccinated is by vaccinating mothers during pregnancy.


This post originally appeared on The Conversation on April 9


Comments

    Last year my 3.5 year old got Influenza A (at the same time my wife and i got pneumonia), thankfully our 18month old escaped with a snotty nose.

    But out 3.5 year old, barely ate or drank for 9 days, constantly had a high fever (thankfully we escaped any febrile seizures), but we had to use panadol suppositories because she spit out panadol liquid, it was rather difficult getting tamiflu down her throat as well (there was a no availability of tamiflu for kids so had to find a place that could make it up for us).

    So I'm very tempted to get everyone vaccinated this year (even though people were claiming how ineffective it seemed last year).

      I can't remember where I saw it - but this year could be potentially worse than last year. Well worth investigating again, especially after last year. Sorry to hear!

      As the article points out though, the flu vaccine we get here is adjusted each year. It usually targets around 4 different flu strains, and I've been told by health professionals in the past that which strains our flu vaccine targets is based on what the most widespread strains are in the northern hemisphere during their flu season.

      Obviously though, that doesn't account for strains we might experience that the northern hemisphere didn't heavily experience, which might be why some were claiming last year's vaccine wasn't as effective - it's possible it just didn't account for a specific flu strain that turned out to be widespread.

      I'd still recommend getting it every year though as you're not really losing anything if you do. My old work used to provide it to us for free, they'd bring a doctor in for the day and anyone who wanted a flu shot could get one.

    @dctrjack Yeah, i've never actually got the flu shot before, the main point of contention is when to get it done, with Drs and Pharmacists disagreeing.

    @whitepointer Yeah, they pick and chose each year what goes into it, last year they buggered it up and in combination with people getting it too early (apparently it can lose effectiveness at a rate of 6 to 11% a month so getting it early april means by september its lost 50% efficacy)

      Well they didn't really "bugger it up", they used the same method of predicting the flu strains as they always have. Like all predictions though they are sometimes off the mark and that's what seemed to be the case last year. It isn't really anyone's fault.

      One way or another though even if the vaccine doesn't hit the strain that turns out to be the most widespread, you're still getting vaccinated against around 4 common flu strains which is never a bad thing.

        OK so buggered was a bit harsh, but still. It would have shaken a lot of peoples faith in the flu vaccine.

          It shouldn't shake faith. The vaccine is not foolproof because viruses are friggin amazingly resilient and mutate readily. The vaccines are usually as 'up-to-date' as we can possibly be.

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