Children and the Flu Vaccine: Yes or No?

Are flu vaccinations really necessary for our children?

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Not Just Any Other Night

It definitely wasn’t how I expected to spend my Friday night. The lazy night of TV and takeout that was underway fell to the wayside when I realized that my normally bubbly 2-year-old daughter was staring glazed-eyed at the TV from her high chair. A temperature check revealed a temperature of 105.7. I gasped. Is that right??? I thought a temperature that high would render the child unconscious. Another temperature check confirmed that my daughter’s fever was dangerously high.

Now here we were scrunched in the corner of the ER waiting room waiting to see a doctor, my daughter calmly watching cartoons (not even a fever can dim the allure of cartoons for my little one), with me fretting beside her.

As I recalled to the triage resident, my daughter had just gotten the flu shot at her 30-month doctor’s appointment earlier that morning, and she hadn’t really seemed herself since. I confided that I don’t think I would have even had her get the flu shot if I had known that this would be the effect it would have on her. The obviously sympathetic doctor said that he’s been seeing stronger reactions to the flu vaccine due to the relative success of our sanitation efforts during the Covid pandemic. People were getting sick less often because we were masking up and being much more diligent about wiping things down, and this meant our immune systems weren’t getting the usual workout that helps keep it at its strongest.

Thankfully, my daughter was fine by the next day after taking Motrin and getting some rest, but I was still left with the question: Do I really need to give her the flu vaccination every year? Was the reward worth the risk? I decided to do some research to see just how necessary the flu shot was to my toddler and other children.

The short answer? Yes, the CDC strongly recommends that children six months old of age and up receive the flu shot each year, preferably by October, before the flu season officially begins. (1) Not only that- the CDC actually prioritizes the flu vaccination of children aged 6 months up to their 5th birthday because of the fact that this age group is more likely to be hospitalized due to complications from the flu than older children. (1) They claim that the danger lies in not merely getting the flu, but the complications that come with having the flu. Among those complications are pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, dehydration, worsening of long-term medical conditions, and even death. (1)

The Facts

According to the CDC, childhood deaths related to flu complications have averaged from 37 to 199 each year in the past ten years, and they estimate that because of underreporting of these flu-related deaths, the true figures may actually be upwards of 400 childhood flu-related deaths every year. (1) I’m sure we can all agree that even one death of a child is one death too many. For Rebecca Hendricks of Tacoma, Washington, this statistic is all too real and devastating. Hendricks’ 5-year-old daughter Scarlet Anne was sent home early from school one December afternoon because of a fever. The following morning Scarlet seemed to be improving, according to her mother, but by that evening, Scarlet was dead. (3)

One very important thing to note is that of these flu-related deaths, 80% are of children who were unvaccinated. In fact, In 2019–20, only 21% of children eligible for the influenza vaccine received it (1). I was surprised by this number. Anybody who has been around children for any amount of time knows that “petri dish” is their middle name until adolescence, at least. When my daughter hit one year old, she started using her newfound mobility to put any and everything into her mouth. Not only are our cuddly cuties more prone to contracting an illness, but those around them may be more likely to get sick too due to their exposure to children who are sick.

Unfortunately, Scarlet Anne belonged to this unvaccinated group. Her mother Rebecca admits, “I really didn’t even know that flu killed people…It was something that I just never paid attention to.” (3) She goes on to say that she routinely declined the flu vaccine for her children because of the assumption that it not being mandatory probably meant that it wasn’t that important. (3)

The Takeaway

My conclusion: When it comes to vaccinating your child, it’s your call. We do what we think is best for our children. Think though- a fever for two days now would probably be nothing compared to your child truly having the flu. Vaccines are rigorously tested, and the odds of an adverse reaction are extremely low. (2) Getting your child vaccinated can help protect your child, yourself, and others around you.

References

1. “Flu & Young Children.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 Oct. 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/flu/highrisk/children.htm.

2. Miller, Elaine R, et al. “Deaths Following Vaccination: What Does the Evidence Show?” Vaccine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 26 June 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4599698/.

3. Simmons, Ann M. “After Losing Child to Flu, a Mother Warns Others.” UCLA Health, https://www.uclahealth.org/mattel/pediatric-pulmonology/workfiles/LosAngelesTimes.PDF.

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