In the fall of 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has expanded guidelines to recommend flu inoculations for children up to age 18. Previously, only children aged 6 months to 5 years old were recommended to be vaccinated. These additional 30 million more school-aged children who will now be vaccinated don't usually get as sick as their young counterparts, but some researchers, like Children's epidemiologist John Brownstein, PhD, who has been studying the links between children and flu outbreaks in communities, believe vaccinating a bigger population might help communities as a whole.
Frequently asked questions
What's your opinion of the new CDC guidelines, which recommend children up to the age of 18 get the influenza vaccine?
It's a great idea. The flu makes children and adults very ill, causing significant loss of school time and work time. For children who have chronic diseases, like asthma, it can be fatal. I think that the larger percentage of people in the population that get vaccinated, the safer it is for everybody. We highly recommend it.
Why do you think the CDC has increased the cut-off age?
I think they want to have a larger percentage of the population immunized to decrease the rates of flu development overall. Having more people vaccinated helps protect the elderly and the very young--the two groups that are at the highest risk for severe side effects from the flu. I think it's only a matter of time before they extend that recommendation to all people.
Why is it so important for children, even those who are older and healthier, to receive the flu vaccine?
Well it's important that they don't catch the flu and that they don't transmit it to other people. If they are healthy, and don't have asthma, they're not necessarily going to be seriously harmed by the flu, but they can spread it. They live in families, and go to school in big groups. Children are a big pool of influenza virus, so to speak.
Will flu shots be harder to come by with the increase in children receiving flu shots?
We are anticipating a good supply of vaccine this year, and I think that's one reason for the increase in recommendations - they knew the supply was going to be good.
With so many more children being vaccinated each year, how will clinics manage the increase?
It's a big challenge. It's something we started talking about in the summer to get ready for now. Here at Children's, we've developed systems to provide flu shots in a rapid, efficient manner. We're also expanding our hours, doing flu clinics in the evenings and on Saturdays.
What type of benefit do you expect from this new recommendation?
Without a doubt I think we will see less influenza, less hospitalization, less emergency room use, less urgent care needs. Subsequently, we'll see less bacterial disease, pneumonia particularly, which occurs as a side effect of influenza.
When should I take my child to get the flu shot?
The vaccine is available now. It's best to go in October, before the flu season starts to peak in November.
Should I still get vaccinated if I've been exposed to the flu this year?
It's still useful to get vaccinated after being exposed to the flu, as you might not catch it that time. Depending on how soon after the exposure, receiving the flu shot can lessen the symptoms a little bit.
Where can my family go to receive the flu vaccine?
You can go to a pediatrician's office, your family doctor and to some pharmacies.
What is the difference between the regular flu vaccine shot and the nasal FluMist option?
They are very similar in effectiveness, although many insurance companies don't cover the cost of FluMist. The regular flu vaccine is available to children 6 months and older. If they are under age 9, they need two shots the first year they receive the vaccine. The FluMist is for people 2 and older, up to age 49.
Are there side effects with the flu shot or the FluMist? I.e, does it give you the flu?
The vaccine does not give you the flu! The main side effect it can give you is a sore arm. In terms of getting a fever or getting very sick, that really is more myth than fact. You can't spread the flu because you got the flu shot--it's not a live virus.
Read more about the flu here. And click the links below to read more about researcher John Brownstein's work related to the spread of the flu, including:
- A study that showed that the flu spread more slowly in the months after the September 11th attacks.
- A study that suggests that preschoolers fuel flu epidemics
- A study that links the rate of the flu in adults to the proportion of children living in their communities