By Dr Prakash Desai
You’ve taken care of the backpack, lunchbox, folders, pencil case. But what about any vaccines your child might need? Making your child get flu shots every year is a great idea, but even more this year as the Covid-19 virus continues to spread. Many parents don’t realise it, but the flu can be a very serious illness and the highest risk group are children upto the age of 5 years and above, senior citizens and can lead to long-term health conditions. It is even more important to protect your child from viruses like influenza by giving them an annual flu shot. Vaccinating children not only prevents them from catching flu, it also prevents them from spreading it.
As a paediatrician and neonatologist, I often come across parents who ask questions like: “My child had the flu vaccination last year, do they need another one this year?” Yes, flu viruses change every year so the vaccine may be updated. For this reason, we recommend that your child is vaccinated against the flu again this year, even if vaccinated last year. In young children, flu can cause pneumonia (lung infection) and bronchiolitis (infection of the tiny airways that lead to the lungs causing wheezing and difficulty breathing) and sometimes the resulting high fever can lead to febrile fits.
Below are some Q&As that will help you decide to consider vaccinating your child with flu vaccine, if not done already:
Influenza (or “flu”) is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus. In India, limited influenza activity is usually seen throughout the year with a clear peaking during the changing weather seasons and mostly during the rainy season all over the country. Parents need to understand, influenza isn’t just in schools — it’s also out in our communities, in stores and in parks and in individuals around you. It’s still very important for kids to get vaccinated to protect themselves and everybody else around them from influenza. Considering the seriousness of influenza, and the susceptibility of young kids to this illness, doctors and specialists have all been motivating parents to get the seasonal influenza vaccinations to be better equipped for the flu seasons.
Always remember from ages four through six, your child needs additional doses of some vaccines, as well as a flu vaccine every year. If your child has missed any vaccines, work with your doctor to make sure he or she gets it on time.
How does influenza spread?
Influenza viruses are found in the nose and throat. Children can catch influenza from siblings, parents, other family members, playmates or caregivers.
Germs usually spread in one of three ways:
Direct contact, such as touching or holding hands with an infected person.
Indirect contact means touching a toy, doorknob or a used tissue, that has been touched by an infected person and now has germs on it and can stay on surfaces for many hours.
Some germs spread through the air via droplets when a person coughs or sneezes.
How do I know if my child has influenza?
The flu strikes more quickly than a cold, and makes children feel worse typical influenza symptoms include:
What are the benefits of the vaccine?
Having the vaccine will help protect from what can be a very nasty illness in children. Children under the age of five years have the highest rate of hospital admissions due to flu. It will reduce the chance of others in your family, who could be at greater risk from flu, such as grandparents or those with long-term health conditions, contracting it from your child.
Does taking the flu vaccine stop you from getting the flu?
Flu illness can be caused by several viruses. As the flu vaccine given has been derived from four prevalent viruses for that time of the year, the circulating virus has to match the virus strain for best protection. It also depends on an individual’s immune response to produce antibodies. Though it might not provide complete protection, there is a good chance that the incidence will reduce and chances of complications and hospital admissions due to it will come down.
Can all children get a flu vaccine?
Yes, the minimum age is six months. Only in the first year, two doses of the Flu vaccine need to be given one month apart to reinforce the immunity and subsequently once every year to provide maximum immunity as the circulating strain and the matching vaccine strain keeps changing.
Ideally, it’s definitely recommended until the child is five years old, but children with recurrent respiratory illness, asthma and other long-term conditions would benefit from yearly vaccination to be continued till later.
Are there side-effects of the flu vaccine?
The influenza vaccine is very safe. It cannot cause the flu. Side-effects are usually mild and could include:
Apart from immunisations, there are some simple ways to protect yourself and your child from flu:
Good hand hygiene is the most important factor to prevent the spread of flu. Wash your own and tell anyone who will be looking after the baby to do so often with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitiser.
If your baby is already reaching out for toys and crawling around, be sure to wash her hands as well and clean the surfaces which are frequently handled.
Breastfeeding your baby helps to protect her health in more ways than one. Breastmilk contains antibodies that will pass on to your baby. Breastfed babies have lesser incidence of colds and other respiratory and gut infections.
Avoid close contact with persons who may already be showing signs of flu symptoms, if possible.
There has been a surge of flu vaccinations in the current Covid pandemic and vaccines are available at your local paediatrician or can be arranged through hospitals, which provide home vaccination services. Don’t forget to protect your kids, and others, take a flu jab for your children.
(The writer is Consultant – Pediatrician & Neonatologist, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Bangalore – Malleshwaram)