Flu season is on its way. Though getting a flu shot may seem like a no brainer to some, at $20 a shot for my family of six, I want to know if it’s really necessary.
New Jersey recently passed a law requiring flu shots for all pre-school and elementary school kids. Some parents are happy because it will mean their kids are less likely to pick up the flu at school. Others are furious that the government is regulating medical procedures for their children they see as risky and unnecessary.
According to the CDC the number of Americans getting the flu in a particular year could be as low as 5 percent or as high as 20 percent of the population. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized and 36,000 people die. Those most likely to die of influenza and related complications are the elderly and other immune compromised people.
Members of “priority groups” will get flu shots first if, as in recent years, there are shortages. This high-risk group includes:
• Children aged 6 to 23 months • Children over 2 years old with chronic health conditions • Children who are taking long term aspirin therapy • Household members of children less than 6 months of age, since these babies are too young to get a flu shot themselves • Women who will be pregnant during the flu season • Residents of long-term care facilities • Adults with any condition that weakens the immune system • Any person in close contact with someone in a high-risk group, such as healthcare workers.
People who should not get a flu shot include:
• Anyone who’s severely allergic to eggs (ingredients for flu shots are grown inside eggs) • Infants under 6 months old • Anyone who’s ever had a severe reaction to a flu vaccination (although most people do not experience any side effects from the flu shot) • Anyone with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare condition that affects the immune system and nerves • Anyone with a fever
Flu shots are made of dead influenza virus cells and cannot give your child the flu. A nasal mist vaccination is available for children over 2. This is a live vaccine and your child could develop flu symptoms.
Some parents worry about the preservative Thimrosal contained in some vaccines can cause autism. Studies have shown no measurable connection. Thimrosal-free shots are available.
Flu shots are available at a variety of locations including some stores and pharmacies and your county health department. Most HMOs will only cover flu shots if they are given at your pediatrician’s office. You will then only be asked to pay your required co-pay. The flu shot cannot keep your children from getting other kinds of viral infections and may not even prevent some influenza strains.
The best way to ensure your child stays healthy this winter is to wash hands often, avoid crowds, and never share cups or eating utensils.