Do We Have to Get Flu Shots Every Year?

A yearly flu shot is the best way to protect yourself against the types of influenza expected each year.
The doctor recommends flu shots for our family, but our kids do not like having to get a shot every year. Is there anything else we can do instead?
Not really! I do not know of any other way to be protected against the most common types of influenza expected this winter. Because these viruses change regularly, the flu vaccine is updated each year. Health professionals would always prefer to prevent the flu with the vaccine rather than having to treat it with medicines once someone is infected.

On September 19, 2007 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved use of the nasal influenza vaccine LAIV (FluMist®) for healthy children ages 2-4 years old (24-59 months old) without a history of recurrent wheezing, as well as for healthy persons ages 5-49 years who are not pregnant. ("Healthy" indicates persons who do not have an underlying medical condition that predisposes them to influenza complications.) This new flu vaccine is sprayed up the nose, which makes it easier to administer it. People (like your kids) tend to be more accepting of this approach than they are of a shot. Different drugs are also available to treat the flu, but nothing is used routinely as prophylaxis (taken to prevent infection or disease).

Remember that influenza is a serious disease that can cause fever, sore throat, muscle aches, cough, and chills. Those children with long-term health problems like asthma or immune systems that do not work optimally are prime candidates for the vaccine. In fact, anyone who may be in close contact with someone at high risk for influenza should get a flu shot.

The viruses used to make the vaccine are killed, so you cannot get the flu from receiving the shot. Once someone gets a flu shot, it takes up to two weeks to develop the right protection. So be sure your family gets the shots as soon as possible in October or early November, as the flu season sometimes can come quite early (e.g., before Thanksgiving).

Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.

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