It’s fall, which means that along with going back to school, there’s something else your child needs to do: get a flu shot.
Every year, I have lots of conversations with parents about the influenza vaccine. Most of them are happy to have their child get it (and I am equally happy to give it). But some of them are hesitant. They don’t think it’s necessary, and some worry about its safety.
Before I talk about why it’s necessary, let’s be clear: the flu shot is safe. With any vaccine or other medical treatment side effects are always possible, of course. But the most common side effects of the flu shot are soreness where it was given and some mild fever or achiness for a day or two. Allergic reactions are incredibly rare. Some people with very severe egg allergies may need to avoid it, as do people who have had an allergic reaction to it in the past, but those people are few and far between.
Also, the flu shot cannot give you the flu, as some people seem to think. It’s not possible. The virus is killed. We give the flu shot during flu season, and it takes a week or two to take effect, so it’s possible to catch the flu during that period. It’s also not 100% effective — last year’s shot was about 60% effective — so it’s also possible to get the shot and still get the flu. But if you do, chances are you will get a milder case. The shot is the only option this year, as it turns out that the nasal spray wasn’t effective.
Here’s why you child absolutely should get the flu shot:
- The flu can make you very sick. Every year, about 200,000 people are hospitalized with complications of flu, and some of them die. The flu can be particularly dangerous for the very young, the very old, and people with health problems, like asthma. Even if you don’t get that sick, you can be really miserable and for a long time. Just because nobody in your family has gotten the flu before doesn’t mean it can’t happen this year.
- Your child can make other people sick. Let’s face it, kids aren’t always great about washing their hands or covering their coughs. They also tend to hang out in groups and have physical contact and share toys and otherwise spread germs among themselves and others. This is a really important point that too often gets missed: when it comes to the flu shot, it isn’t just about you and your child. Your child might weather the flu fine, but she could easily pass it to someone who doesn’t weather it fine at all — like a newborn, or someone on chemotherapy for cancer, or someone with lung disease. Especially given that the flu shot doesn’t offer perfect protection, the best way to keep more people protected is to give it to more people. That way, the chances of anyone getting sick go down.
To learn more about the flu and the flu shot, check out flu.gov. It has everything you need to know. And talk to your doctor if you have any particular concerns about your child or your situation. But please, get your child immunized. Take care of your child — and of everyone around you.