By Julia Gaines MD, FAAP
Fall is coming! The kids are back to school, the traffic is back to normal, and hopefully (please!) we’ll start enjoying some cooler weather. Of course, with fall comes flu season and the rush to immunize as many of our patients as possible against this annual misery. Dealing with the flu virus and the flu vaccine often leads to drama rivaling daytime soap operas and this year is no exception. The latest episode – “No Flumist This Year.”
Aaahh…..Flumist. The nasal flu vaccine that made so many kids happy just didn’t meet the grade this year. This summer, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices reviewed the vaccine data for the previous three years and determined that the efficacy of Flumist against the circulating flu strains was only around 3% while the efficacy of the injected vaccine was around 65% (which is very good for flu vaccine). With those numbers, they could not justify recommending the use of Flumist this year. That groan you heard at the end of June was every pediatrician in the country looking ahead to this flu season with dread!
Do my children really need to get the flu shot every year?
Just to review, the flu is caused by an ever-evolving virus and causes illness that can vary from simply miserable to fatal. Children under 2 years old, the elderly, and people with chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, and kidney disease are especially vulnerable to the flu and its complications. Those complications include pneumonia, respiratory failure, sepsis, and death. Because children are little snot factories when they’re sick and tend to congregate in large groups, they are the Typhoid Marys of the flu world. Really, you couldn’t design a better flu transmission vehicle than a little kid.
Flu season runs from October to April and, since you can’t keep your family locked in the house that whole time, the best way to protect everyone is an annual flu vaccine. While the vaccine is definitely not 100% effective, it’s generally very protective and definitely worth it. When vaccinated people are unlucky enough to still get the flu, they tend to have a milder illness than if they were unprotected. The flu shot is very safe and can be given to nearly everyone over the age of 6 months.
Despite what your buddy at work says, you CANNOT get the flu from the flu shot!
As of this writing, there seems to be plenty of flu shot available. However, the late withdrawal of Flumist from the nation’s available vaccine stock does raise concerns whether there will be sufficient flu vaccine around later in the season. As the vaccine takes many months to produce, vaccine manufacturers cannot dramatically increase production at this point. So, don’t dally! All children over 6 months should be immunized and we are also offering flu shots for any adults living in the house for $40 (we are unable to bill insurance for adult family members, so this is cash only). We have same day and Saturday appointments available.