Flu vaccinations have become a hot topic amongst parents, doctors, and anyone else concerned with the health of children. Some say there is no reason any child should be denied a seasonal flu vaccination. Children are, after all, more susceptible to the virus. Vaccination can offer added protection, limits the scope of flu outbreaks in the community, and even save lives.
Others believe that flu vaccinations are not as effective as people think, or even worse, that they have no effect at all. There is also heightened concern about thimerosal, a Mercury-containing substance that is commonly used to preserve flu vaccinations.
Making sense of these conflicting viewpoints is a question of: a) Understanding the facts about children and influenza, b) Understanding the science behind flu vaccination and b) Talking it over with your doctor or pediatrician.
So what are the scientific facts about children and flu?
1. Every year, around 20,000 American children (ages 5 and younger) end up hospitalized as a result of influenza and its complications.
2. Any child with a chronic condition (e.g. diabetes, asthma, or nervous/neurological disorders) has a greater risk of contracting the virus and developing serious complications as a result.
3. Influenza comes in a number of different strains, and each strain mutates. This means that updated vaccines are necessary in order to control seasonal outbreaks.
4. Advanced DNA sequencing has allowed scientists to produce updated vaccines with a high degree of accuracy, but constant mutations make it difficult to pin down exactly.
5. Statistics on influenza are further obscured by the existence of viruses and bacteria that cause flu-like symptoms without the actual presence of influenza.
And here are some scientific facts about flu vaccination:
1. Both the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) cite influenza vaccination as the single most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus amongst the global population, including children.
2. Vaccination protects against multiple strains of the virus. Trivalent vaccine protects against three different strains, while Quadrivalent vaccine protects against four strains. Different brands of each type of vaccine are available and approved for different age groups.
3. Not all vaccinations are shots. For children ages 2-8, the CDC now recommends a quadrivalent nasal spray vaccination when readily available. Parents are, however, urged to proceed with traditional shots when nasal spray is not readily available.
4. Some children will require two doses of influenza vaccination in order to be vaccinated effectively.
What about the Mercury question?
In the late 1990s, the Mercury contained in Thimerosal (a preservative used in many of the influenza vaccinations available at the time) was theoretically linked to neurological and inflammatory conditions in children. Since then, the majority of influenza vaccinations do not contain the substance. Additionally, as Dr. Robert Jacobson (Chair of Pediatrics at Mayo Clinic) describes here, the original concern may have been misguided. In any case, it’s a good idea to learn about Thimerosal in influenza vaccinations. If you still have concerns, be candid with your doctor or pediatrician. Chances are, you’ll be able to find a vaccination you are comfortable with.
We understand the need to be informed about influenza vaccinations for your child, and we strongly encourage any concerned parent to discuss the issue with their family doctor or pediatrician.
Do you have questions or comments? Please feel free to chime in using the comments box below!