Still Time to Immunize your Child for Influenza
Adapted from two separate articles in the Union Tribune over the last 3 weeks.
As most of you know, all of the physicians at Children’s Healthcare believe that the risk of all the diseases that we immunize children for far, far outweigh any risks of vaccination. Notably, our approach has always been to provide parents with the most accurate information available so that you can make an informed decision.
As such, we want to be sure that you have the following facts:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that since the 1970s, influenza has killed between 3,000 and 49,000 people in the U.S. each year, most of whom were 65 or older.
An average of 200,000 people per year get so sick they have to be hospitalized, including 20,000 children under 5.
In 2011-2012, the latest flu season for which the CDC has firm numbers, the illness killed 37 children under 18. It killed 122 children the season before and 348 during the 2009-2010.
Studies of the psychology of vaccine refusal have found that we worry much more about risks to kids than risks to adults, and we worry much less about risks with which we’ve grown familiar, such as the regular seasonal flu. What worries us more prompts more widespread and more passionate advocacy, including more media attention. Together those factors raise pressure on the government to respond to what we’re most afraid of, even though what we fear more might not be what threatens us the most.
A recent Rand study indicated that 16 percent of patients forgo the flu vaccine because they believe the shot would make them sick. However, parents should know that the flu vaccine contains inactivated flu virus and therefore, there is no way for the vaccine to give recipients influenza.
Weekly case totals and flu-like illness reports from emergency departments show that in most years, a big spike in activity comes in late January and early February, putting pressure on emergency rooms and intensive care units in San Diego and across the nation. It is always the case that many who end up at the hospital could have avoided the hospitalization by vaccination. Furthermore, with three local influenza-related deaths already tallied this season and the traditional peak time for infections less than a month away, health officials are warning the public not to get complacent.
This year, deciding whether or not to get a quick stick comes after much coverage that the 2014-2015 vaccine was much less effective than epidemiologists had hoped. According to the CDC, genetic mutations in one of the virus strains contained in last season’s vaccine mutated after it was selected in the spring, meaning the virus in the wild was different enough by the fall, when doses were ready for use, to significantly lessen their effectiveness. That does not appear to be the case this year.
Dr. Wilma Wooten, San Diego County’s public health officer, said there is no reason why anyone should let last year’s poor match convince them that they should not bother with a flu shot this year. And don’t rely on the possibility of a mild flu season for protection, she added. “You can feel that this year’s season is more mild than last year’s, but it’s still early. We just don’t know yet how it’s going to go next month and the month after that. People should realize that the flu is very unpredictable from season to season,” Wooten said.
All children 6 months of age (with rare exception) should receive a flu vaccine. Furthermore, it takes about two weeks for the flu shot to build immunity in the body. “This is the perfect time to go out and get a flu shot so that you will be covered in late January and early February when we see the most cases,” Wooten said.
Still, no vaccine is 100 percent effective, so some in any large population will still get sick even if they have been vaccinated. Still, studies have shown that the severity of illness will be greatly reduced for those who have been immunized.