The French didn’t formerly call influenza (flu) “la grippe” for nothing. The respiratory disease grabs you immediately, causing days of high fever, persistent headache and body ache, weeks-long fatigue and a cough that won’t quit. Young children and seniors are susceptible to flu complications including ear and sinus infections, bronchitis and life-threatening pneumonia. Pregnant women are at risk for premature labor and delivery, and pneumonia, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). ACOG encourages pregnant women to get vaccinated for flu during any trimester; the vaccine protects both mother and baby.
Protecting yourself and your children from influenza means getting all family members vaccinated against the flu strains likely to hit this season. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends flu shots for everyone over the age of 6 months. Annual shots are needed because different strains of flu virus become prevalent from one year to the next, causing global epidemics. But which shot to get for younger children this year may surprise you.
New kids’ recommendations
For the 2014-2015 flu season, the CDC is recommending that children ages 2-8 be given FluMist®, a nasal spray made from weakened live flu viruses that don’t cause disease. Evidence shows that the nasal spray better protects most children in this age group than the traditional intramuscular injection, made from inactivated (killed) viruses. The vaccine is quadrivalent, meaning it protects against four strains of flu virus: two influenza A strains (A/H3N2 and A/H1N1) and two influenza B strains. However, the following subgroups of children should not be given FluMist: those ages 2-4 with asthma or wheezing within the past year; children who are immunosuppressed; those with allergies to eggs; and kids taking products containing aspirin.
For children who have never been vaccinated against the flu, the CDC still recommends that those ages 6 months to 8 years receive two doses of vaccine, four weeks apart, to boost their immunity.
Other vaccine options
Years ago there were no choices when it came to flu shots—everybody got the same jab in a large muscle in the arm or thigh. But now there are several types of vaccine, so review this list to see which one may be best for you and your family:
- Traditional flu vaccine made from inactivated viruses, given in a muscle. One version is trivalent, protecting against two influenza A strains and one B strain. The other is quadrivalent, protecting against four strains.
- FluMist nasal spray, for healthy people ages 2-49.
- FluBlok®, recombinant vaccine for people with severe egg allergies, ages 18-49.
- Flucelvax®, cell culture-based vaccine for adults 18 and older.
- Fluzone® Intradermal has an ultrafine needle, 90% shorter than the needle used for intramuscular flu shots. It is given through the skin, and may be ideal for people with bleeding disorders. Recommended for people 18-64.
- Fluzone® High-Dose contains four times the antigen of a regular flu injection, prompting a stronger immune system response. It is recommended for people 65 and older, a group that is most prone to flu and its complications.
Visit the CDC's website.
US Department of Health and Human Services flu website.
ACOG recommendation on flu vaccine for pregnant women.