Ask Dr. Marla: Does my child need a flu shot?

By Dr. Marla Shapiro on September 07, 2012
I keep hearing about people getting sick after getting a flu shot. Does my child need one?


It is estimated that 4,000 to 8,000 people die and 70,000 to 75,000 people are hospitalized each year in Canada from the flu.

Children can spread the virus at school or daycare before we even know they have it and can continue to spread it even when they appear to be better. Children also shed the virus longer than adults do and may be infectious for more than 10 days. Complications of flu-like illness can result in secondary bacterial infections such as pneumonia, sinusitis and otitis media. In addition, these newly infected children can transfer the virus to family members, and they, in turn, can transmit the virus to coworkers and people in the community.

While we often think children with underlying illnesses are most at risk, in fact, many children hospitalized for influenza have NO underlying conditions – it’s not just “sick kids” who are hit hard by influenza.

Preventing flu in children helps protect the entire population and reduces days lost at school or work. Vaccination is an important preventive measure for influenza and all parents should be aware of their options. We know that the more people we vaccinate, the more all of us in the community are protected. The fewer people that shed and spread, the less illness we see.

In addition to the traditional vaccine, we now have a nasal spray which is a needle-free option for children over two. For children between six months and age two, the traditional flu vaccine is given.

It is a myth that you can catch the flu from the vaccine. Both methods stimulate our immune system to make fighter cells to influenza strains in the vaccines. This means that if we are confronted by the virus during the flu season we already have immunity on board. I encourage all my patients over the age of six months to have an annual flu vaccine or mist unless there are absolute indications not to do so, such as hypersensitivity or anaphylactic reaction to eggs/egg protein, gentamicin, gelatin or arginine or any other ingredient that may be found in the vaccine.

As always, speak to your health-care provider for personal advice.

Got a health question? Submit it to Dr. Marla.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2012.

By Dr. Marla Shapiro| September 07, 2012

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