For many people, the flu vaccine is an important tool for preventing illness or death. The flu kills approximately 36,000 people every year in the U.S. The CDC is now urging everyone over the age of 6 months to get a flu vaccine. Previously, only those in high risk groups like children, the elderly, those with chronic illnesses and health care workers were advised to get a flu vaccine. Is the flu vaccine a good idea for your family? Here are some things to consider when making your decision.
What is the Flu?
Influenza, also called the flu, is a virus that primarily infects the respiratory system. The flu is highly contagious and can cause serious complications including death in certain high risk individuals. Often, people spread the flu virus before they show any signs that they are infected. A flu vaccine can help to reduce the rates of flu infection and limit the spread of the disease.
Though the flu vaccine is the single most effective way of preventing the flu, the question of whether or not to get a flu vaccine can be complicated. There are different considerations for each member of your family.
Should Infants Get a Flu Vaccine?
Infants and children from 6 months to 5 years old are the group that most needs a flu shot according to the CDC. This is because they are the group who develops the most complications from the flu. Infants under 6 months of age should not get a flu vaccine however due to their underdeveloped immune system. If you have an infant older than 6 months, the CDC advises that they get a flu shot. High risk children should also get vaccinated. This includes kids who were born prematurely. Kids who have chronic health conditions, asthma, heart problems, lung disorders, a compromised immune system or live with high risk adults are also urged to get vaccinated.
Should Kids Get a Flu Vaccine?
Young children are at the highest risk for developing complications from the flu. Children develop higher fevers and have more nausea, diarrhea and vomiting than adults with the flu. This can cause dehydration, which is a serious concern with kids who have the flu. The CDC recommends that all children over age 6 months get a flu vaccine. School aged children are especially susceptible to the spread of the virus. In the U.S., more than 20,000 children are hospitalized due to the flu each year. Children under 2 who get the virus are the most likely to be hospitalized. Children ages 2 to 4 are most likely to need medical care at a doctor’s office, emergency room or urgent care center. Flu complications for kids can be life threatening and serious, including pneumonia. Kids who have diabetes, asthma, a suppressed immune system, heart, lung or kidney diseases or are on aspirin therapy are considered high risk and should get a flu vaccine.
Should Tweens and Teens Get a Flu Vaccine?
Healthy children who attend school have some of the highest rates of the flu. Tweens and teens are one of the groups most likely to spread the flu not only amogst themslves, but to adults as well. They often bring it home to younger siblings or grandparents who can have more serious complications. A flu vaccine can save tweens and teens and their families from missed school or work days and trips to the emergency room.
Should Adults & the Elderly Get a Flu Vaccine?
The CDC recommends that all adults get the flu vaccine. Getting vaccinated is particularly important for high risk adults as they experience higher rates of flu complications and death. High risk adults include adults who have chronic disease, a compromised immune system, chronic lung disorders, heart problems, pregnant women, residents of long term care facilities, college students, and residents of facilities that care for people with chronic medical problems.
Healthy adults who should get a flu vaccine include health care workers, those planning to travel to the Southern Hemisphere, public safety workers like police and firefighters, those individuals age 50 and older, day care workers, teachers and those in contact with a high risk group. The incidence of death from the flu is highest in those age 65 and older. In fact the elderly account for three-fourths of all flu deaths nationwide.
Who Should Not Get a Flu Vaccine?
Although the CDC recommends the flu vaccine for anyone over 6 months of age, there are some people who should not get a flu shot. Anyone with an active illness or fever should wait until they are recovered. People who have had a severe allergic reaction to a previous flu vaccine, has Guillain-Barré Syndrome or is allergic to eggs should not receive a flu vaccine.
Side Effects of the Flu Vaccine
As with any vaccine, the benefits of getting a flu vaccine should be weighed with the possible side effects. Most people have no ill effects from the flu vaccine. Severe side effects from the flu shot are rare, but possible as with any vaccine. Soreness or swelling at the vaccination site is the most common side effect. Less than 1% of all people who get the flu vaccine will experience mild flu-like symptoms. Most of these people are those receiving the shot for the first time. Children, especially those who have never been exposed to the flu virus, may experience a headache, fever, chills, muscle aches and fatigue related to the vaccine. Side effects usually last for a few days. People can not develop the flu from getting the flu vaccine. That’s because the shot contains flu virus that is dead.