If you’ve already gotten your flu shot, plan to get it soon, or are the one in your family making sure others get their flu vaccine, thank you!
There are many reasons people hesitate, and I imagine I’ve heard practically all of them. Although this is a choice, science clearly supports that getting the flu shot is far more effective at keeping you and others healthy. Vaccinations prevent hospitalizations and save lives. My family and I get the flu vaccine every year, since I am confident it can help us stay healthy and prevent tragedy in our family and our community.
Here are my top five tips for keeping your family healthy this flu season:
The flu is a big deal.
In the United States, millions of people are sickened, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized, and people die from flu every year. This includes otherwise previously healthy people, including children. It is estimated that flu vaccine can reduce this by 60-70 percent. You can protect your family by routinely vaccinating everyone over 6 months old against the flu. Another way to protect yourself and others — wash hands often.
Don’t wait; just vaccinate.
It’s best to vaccinate before the flu is in the community, because it takes about two weeks for the flu-shot protection to start. Even if someone has experienced a flu-like illness, the vaccine may protect against different flu strains. Immunity lasts for the entire season.
Babies need your help.
Pregnant women who get vaccinated also protect their baby after birth. Vaccinated family and caretakers of infants offer another key line of defense. Immunized health care workers protect patients, especially those at high risk (including children under 5 years old). This is why my pediatric group requires staff to get flu vaccines. Together we provide community immunity for those, like babies under 6 months, who can’t get the flu shot.
The flu shot is available, but not the nasal spray this season.
Although the nasal spray flu vaccine seemed initially promising, more recent research shows it is not effective, and for that reason, it is no longer recommended. The flu shot is the only option this season.
Help prepare your child for the flu shot.
For a younger child, pack a favorite toy, book, or blanket that can be used for comfort. Be honest with your child — explain that shots pinch, but that it won’t hurt for long. Remind children that vaccines keep them healthy, and consider pretend play to prepare them for the office visit. Try to be calm and confident, since children often get cues from watching their parents. Gentle hugs and a smile also go a long way. Provide role modeling and reassurance by trying to remain upbeat and relaxed before, during, and especially after shots. A flu shot is an opportunity for your child to learn healthy coping for life’s challenges.
Dr. James Chattra is a pediatrician in the Allegro Pediatrics Redmond Ridge office. He is the executive director of the North Pacific Pediatric Society, and serves on the Vaccine Advisory Committee of the Washington Vaccine Association.