September 1st, 2011
05:36 PM ET
It may sound like the same old mantra – time to get your flu shot. But in their official seasonal guidelines, America's pediatricians would like you to know that a few things are different this time around.
Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending that everyone (with few exceptions) older than 6 months of age get a flu vaccine. It’s the same for the upcoming flu season.
What’s also the same is the configuration of the influenza vaccine. The same three strains (A/California/7/2009 (H1N1), A/Perth/16/2009 (H3N2), B/Brisbane/60/2008) that were part of last year’s flu vaccine are in this year's doses. It's only the fourth time in 25 years, that there hasn’t been a need for change, according to the AAP recommendations released Thursday.
As a result, some children who would normally need two flu vaccines, only need one dose this year, IF they got vaccinated last year. Usually, children between the ages of 6 months and 8 years need to get two vaccines given four weeks apart.
However if your child didn’t receive any flu vaccine last year, then two vaccinations will still be necessary. Children age 9 and older need only one flu vaccination, and children younger than six months cannot be vaccinated.
Young children under age 5 with chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes or neurologic conditions really need to get vaccinated, according to the AAP, because they are more likely to get seriously ill if they get the flu.
Another thing that’s new in this year's recommendations affects children with mild egg allergies. “Recent studies have shown that children with a mild egg allergy can safely receive a flu vaccine without a need for any allergist consultation,” says Dr. Henry Bernstein, a professor of Pediatrics at the Hofstra Northshore-LIJ School of Medicine in New York and a spokesperson for the AAP. Bernstein says mild reactions are defined as hives alone.
Flu vaccines are grown in eggs, which is why they pose a concern for those with egg allergies, but this year’s recommendations suggest that those with mild allergies can safely get a flu shot in their pediatrician’s office, without following up with a trip to an allergist to be tested for any allergic reactions. This does not apply to children who have severe egg allergies.
Another first is a new type of flu shot that was approved for the 2011-2012 flu season. It’s an intradermal vaccine with a 90% shorter needle than the traditional flu shot, which was longer so it could go all the way into the muscle. Unfortunately only older children can get this shot at this time – it’s been approved only for people ages 18 – 64 because it hasn’t been tested on younger kids yet, says Bernstein. But it could make the flu shot a little less scary for older patients.
For many who really do not like needles, there’s also the nasal flu spray vaccine option. Unlike the flu shot, which contains a dead virus to build up your immune system, the flu spray contains a mild, weakened live virus. It’s approved for anyone between the ages of 2 and 49 who does not have severe egg allergies and is not at high risk for complications of flu. Children under 5 who are at risk for wheezing, pregnant women and those who have a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome and anyone who has nasal congestion cannot get the flu spray either.
People older than 65 can also have the option of a high-dose flu shot.
In recent years, flu season has hit hard at the beginning of the year and the CDC says flu season usually runs from October through May. But you can get the flu at any time, which is why the CDC and the AAP recommend getting a vaccine as soon as it becomes available.
You won’t get full protection until about two weeks after the injection, which is why health officials recommend getting vaccinated early. According to the CDC and AAP, manufacturers will have at least 160 million doses of flu vaccine available for this flu season and they have already begun shipping doses, so some doctors may already have vaccines in their offices.
In an effort to make it easier for more people to get the vaccine and therefore contribute to the “cocooning effect” around those who cannot get it themselves, the AAP recommends pediatricians consider immunizing parents and adult caregivers at the same time of the child’s office visit.
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