It's that time of year. The time of sneezing, coughing, and germ sharing among friends. Each year, families around the world face the great debate of whether or not to vaccinate against the flu. We know you've got questions, because we do too. Here's what you need to know.

How does the flu vaccine work?

Each year, members of the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and other health groups get together to discuss what types of influenza are most likely to strike in the upcoming year. According to the CDC, the seasonal flu vaccine protects against three types of flu viruses that have been determined to be the most common of the upcoming season. Based on this information, private manufacturers create the flu shot using actual killed influenza viruses. When you receive the flu vaccine, your body creates antibodies, which provide you with protection against infection should you come into contact with the live flu virus.

Can I get the flu from the flu vaccine?

No. Some people report mild sneezing and a slight fever after receiving a flu vaccine. However, these symptoms are brief and mild. According to the CDC, anyone who gets the flu shortly after receiving the vaccine was likely already exposed to the flu before receiving the vaccine or shortly after, and it is mostly likely a different strand of the flu than what was included in the vaccine. It takes up to two weeks for protection from the vaccine to take effect.

Can I get the flu even if I get the vaccine?

Yes. There are many strands of influenza, and only the ones that are predicted of infecting large populations make it into the shot. Therefore, you could be exposed to a strand that is not included in the vaccine. Your body may still be able to fight it off quickly, however, thanks to the vaccine.

Who should get the flu vaccine?

Pretty much everyone. Healthy individuals over 6 months of age should get the vaccine. It is vital for those who are at a risk of developing serious complications from the flu — such as people with asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease, as well as pregnant women and people ages 65 and older — to get the vaccine, according to the CDC. In addition, those who care for anyone who is at risk of complications should also get the vaccine.

Is there anyone who shouldn't get the vaccine?

Yes. According to the Mayo Clinic, the flu vaccine can be dangerous to people who have a severe allergy to eggs, who have already experienced a severe reaction to the flu vaccine, children younger than 6 months of age (breastfeeding, vaccinated moms will protect infants from the flu), and people with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome. In addition, anyone who is currently ill with a fever should wait until she recovers before being vaccinated against the flu.

When should I get the flu vaccine?

The CDC recommends that people receive the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available. The flu season can begin in October and it takes about two weeks for your body to create the antibodies to provide protection against the flu. Therefore, sooner is always better with the flu vaccine.

What's the difference between the shot and the spray?

There are two methods of receiving the flu vaccine: the shot and the mist. The shot is made from killed flu viruses and can be given to anyone over 6 months of age, regardless of a chronic medical condition. The mist, or nasal-spray vaccine, is made with weakened, but live, flu viruses. This is great for those who are ages 2-49, are healthy, and may not like needles. However, because it is made with live viruses, the flu mist cannot be taken by pregnant women, or those with chronic health conditions including heart or lung disease. Caretakers can receive the spray; however, they should consult with their doctor before doing so, because there is a shedding period in which you may be contagious.

What are the side effects of the flu vaccine?

The most common side effects of the flu shot are soreness, redness and swelling at the spot of injection, fever, and aches. (My daughter spent two days limping when she received the shot in her leg at age 2).

The most common side effects for the mist are runny nose, wheezing, headache, muscle aches, fever, sore throat, cough, and vomiting.

According to the CDC, there is a small risk of children who receive the vaccine having a seizure caused by a fever, and an even smaller risk of developing Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

There's a lot to take into consideration when deciding whether to vaccinate your family against the flu. Ask your doctor about any questions or concerns you have to ensure that your family remains healthy this flu season. In addition to the vaccine, a healthy diet and proper hand hygiene will help keep illness at bay.

 

Here at Parenting Squad, we're parents, health and children advocates, and educators - but not physicians. Again, please check with your family doctor, registered nurse, or your child's pediatrician for appropriate medical advice and more information about the flu vaccine.