As medical miracles go, flu shots may be dull news. No suspense of a race-against-the-clock surgery or the beautiful drama of a scripted television medical show. The scientific message can be boring – they work. Vaccinations prevent hospitalizations and save lives, yet prevention is not immediately seen. If everyone were appropriately vaccinated, then the magical result of nothing tragic happening may seem invisible. If you are still hesitant but open to hearing a doctor’s (and parent’s) advice, then consider this:
Millions of people are sickened, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized, and thousands of people die from flu every year in our country. This includes previously healthy people, including children. You can protect your family by routinely vaccinating everyone over 6 months old against the flu. And remember to wash your hands!
It’s best to vaccinate before the flu illness 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.
Pregnant women who get vaccinated also protect their baby. Vaccinated family and caretakers offer a key defense for infants. My pediatric group requires staff to get flu shots to protect patients. Explain to children how your family getting vaccinated can be a generous act of caring and kindness that may protect a specific person at risk including an elderly individual, a very young child, or someone with a serious health condition.
The flu shot is again the only option this season. The CDC has not recommended the nasal spray flu vaccine since last season after research showed it to be ineffective.
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. Distracting your child with a song, favorite item, or just being a little silly works. 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.