As you are aware from the dropping temperatures and increased number of sick co-workers, we are entering the heart of cold and flu season. 

Even now, well into December, there is still plenty of the flu season ahead. The best way to protect yourself and your family is with an annual flu shot. 

I discussed this last winter, but this is an important reminder, especially after the severe flu season we went through last year. While the flu shot is beneficial and recommended for people of all ages, it’s even more important for infants, children, elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

However, I still have several parents who refuse to give their kids the flu shot. Here are some of the common concerns I encounter:

• “I was told the flu shot gives you the flu.”

This is probably the most common reason I hear for refusing the flu shot. Parents are convinced if their kids get a flu shot, they’ll get the flu. 

The flu vaccine does not cause the flu.  

Sometimes people may experience fever, fatigue or flu-like symptoms after receiving the shot, but these are much milder than symptoms of the disease itself.

• “I got a flu shot last year, and I still got sick.”

This can happen for a couple of reasons. One possibility is someone was exposed to the flu virus too soon after getting the vaccine. It takes around two weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective (the body must build up a strong enough immune response for the vaccine to work). 

It’s also possible to get infected with a strain of the flu that isn’t covered by that year’s vaccine. The flu vaccine protects against several strains of the flu, but it can’t protect against every strain that’s out there. However, of the close to 200 children who died from influenza last season, around 80 percent of them had not received the flu vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Even if the vaccine is not 100 percent effective, it appears to strongly protect from serious complications of the flu.

• “I had the flu shot when I was pregnant. Doesn’t this protect my baby?”

It is true that vaccinating pregnant women offers some protection to their infants once they’re born. However, most of the time that flu shot was given during the previous year. Therefore, both mother and baby should still be vaccinated that next season.

• “It’s too late in the season now.”

While we have entered flu season, the worst month for flu cases is usually February. A flu shot can be very useful at this time. I recommend giving kids a flu shot all the way through the winter and early spring months – better late than never.

• “My kid is perfectly healthy so there’s no reason for the flu shot.”

While it’s true that the people most at risk from the flu are the very young, the very old, people with impaired immune systems and those with other medical conditions that may put them at higher risk, even the healthiest child can suffer serious complications from the flu. Protect them.

I strongly encourage you to consider the flu vaccine for yourself and for your family. A little discomfort today can prevent much worse problems the rest of this winter.

Dr. Laura Shefner writes about pediatric care for the Cleveland Jewish News. She is a pediatrician at The MetroHealth System and practices in Beachwood and Parma. 

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