It’s flu season, and that means every person alive who is medically eligible for a flu shot really needs one. Around this time of the year, people start spouting a lot of opinions about the flu and flu shot. Here are a few quick scientific facts.
1. First and most importantly, the flu shot cannot give you the flu.
The flu virus in the shot is dead. Dead things can’t replicate. There is no physical way it can cause a flu infection.
2. The flu is not a stomach bug or a couple days of sniffles.
It’s a serious respiratory illness that kills thousands of people every year, including children. Puke and colds are also rampant at this time of year, but we shouldn’t confuse them with the flu.
3. The flu vaccine can prevent the flu, but even when it doesn’t, it usually lessens the severity and duration of the flu infection.
The flu shot can make the flu feel a bit more like the common cold and a bit less like the brink of death. It’s worth it.
4. Almost everyone is clear to receive the flu vaccine.
There are only a handful of conditions that require you to skip it. Your doctor can help you decide if you’re exempt. If you’re not medically exempt, just get your damn flu shot. Seriously.
5. Kids need a flu shot.
Even a healthy child can die from flu complications. They’re approved for children six months of age and older, so only the tiniest of babes can’t get their vaccine.
Now that we’ve covered the flu shot basics, here’s a lesser known, but super important flu shot fact you might not have heard:
If your child is under 9 years old, and they are getting a flu shot for the very first time, they probably need two, about a month apart.
Yeah, I know. Telling your kids they need two pokes four weeks apart isn’t a picnic. I don’t know many kids or parents who would be excited to hear that. But flu immunity is worth the few seconds of discomfort. The CDC is really clear about the need for two doses the first time.
According to the CDC, “Some children 6 months through 8 years of age require two doses of flu vaccine for adequate protection from flu. Children in this age group getting vaccinated for the first time, and those who have only previously gotten one dose of vaccine, should get two doses of vaccine this season—spaced at least 4 weeks apart. Your child’s health care provider can tell you if your child needs two doses.”
Most kids (like mine!) don’t love the needles. The fact that you have to do it twice the first time isn’t the greatest news. But the recommendation stands for a reason, and it’s pretty straight-forward.
Dr. Vincent Iannelli, board-certified pediatrician and Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, explains why: “The second flu shot is a booster dose to improve the effectiveness of the flu vaccine in children. The second dose is given at least 28 days after the first dose. That first dose stimulates the child’s immune system, but it may not be enough to produce the level of antibodies needed for protection from the flu. The second dose results in the child’s immune system producing enough antibodies so she will be able to fight off influenza when exposed. If your child didn’t receive the second dose, it is likely that she has some protection against flu, but it may not be enough.”
Basically, flu shots contain a killed version of the influenza virus that provides the immune system with a “snapshot” of what the virus looks like. This equips your immune system to combat the virus because it shows your body what to look for. Your body begins producing antibodies before infection. When you encounter the live virus, you’re already prepared to fight it.
The first shot your child’s immune system sees will provide some protection. It probably just won’t elicit the immune response needed to provide the best protection possible. The second shot reminds your child’s body what the virus looks like, so it can continue to build immunity to the strains of the virus present in the flu shot that year.
If your kid is hesitant about the needles, but interested in science, hop on over to Netflix and check out Season 2 Episode 8 of “Ask the Story Bots.” It’s all about how people catch a cold, and it features Wanda Sykes. It gives kids and fun and engaging look into the immune system using cartoons and songs. It’s not vaccine specific, but it will give you a chance to explain how vaccines work. They protect you by giving your immune system a chance to create protection against diseases before you encounter them. That way you don’t have to suffer through the illness!
Two little needle pokes can save your child weeks of feeling crummy with the flu, and they could even save your kid’s life.
It takes a couple weeks for the flu shot to be as effective as possible, so getting it early is best practice. But flu season lasts through the winter in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s not too late to get your family covered. Head to your family doctor or local pharmacist ASAP, and protect those little ones today.