A Flu Shot Primer: Basic Answers To Common Questions

Influenza is the seventh leading cause of death in children under the age of 14 in the United States. Illness can be life-threatening. A flu vaccine is developed each year to keep up with the ever changing strains that are circulating.

This year 2015-2016, the strains circulating match the vaccine accurately. Last year 2014-2015, the vaccine was less than 50% preventative. I hope you find this information helpful.  Education is the foundation of who I am.

Influenza A virus is the most deadly and severe. Over 17 years, I have seen 5 deaths in children from this disease, none of whom were vaccinated. They all died very quickly, within 2-4 days of becoming sick.  Influenza B is less destructive, but still has complications like muscle damage, hepatitis, ear infections and pneumonia. Influenza C is considerably more mild and most children get better without much complication or even missed days of school.

Each year, two Influenza A (H1N1), A (H3N2), and one or two influenza B viruses are included in the vaccination. Flu vaccine can protect against slightly different strains that are related to the viruses in the vaccine; the reason receiving it annually makes sense over the long term. The seasonal flu vaccine does NOT provide protection against influenza C. There are many other viruses that cause influenza-like illness (ILI) that spread during flu season to make things more confusing. Flu vaccine will NOT protect against any of those illnesses either. Viruses can look like the duck, walk like the duck, but yet are not the “influenza” duck.

After many years in practice, I will confess patients do seem to get sick following influenza vaccination, but none have died. My best theory is that while your immune system is distracted by the vaccination, another cold or virus sees its opportunity and infects you before you know what happened.  Be reassured, however, you are not getting Influenza A (H1N1) from the flu vaccination.

The typical symptoms of influenza are fever (100-104 degrees), cough, runny nose, headache, muscle pain, and fatigue. Complications include viral or bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, ear infections and sinusitis, especially in children. Severe complications are muscle inflammation and destruction (rhabdomyolysis), central nervous system inflammation (encephalitis), and heart problems such as a heart attack or inflammation of the heart (myocarditis.) I have seen some cases already this year with both Influenza A and B.

Even if those additional complications are diagnosed, sometimes influenza is like a runaway train and death ensues regardless of proper and timely care due respiratory or cardiac arrest, kidney failure, or hemorrhage due to a coagulation (clotting) problems. This is what makes influenza infection so serious.Of note, antiviral (Tamiflu) medications only shorten symptoms of influenza by 24 hours. It does not prevent complications or death, so I do not use them often.

As to the years where the flu vaccination is not a match, basically your child may still get the flu despite vaccination. Here is where it becomes interesting: studies have shown your child is far less likely to die from that influenza infection, meaning there is some cross protection.

My ultimate goal is that your child does not die. If a child gets sick following the flu vaccination or even get influenza despite vaccination, I have never seen them die. Please consider the influenza vaccine for yourself and your children; or think about your reasons for not doing the vaccination, so you are at peace with your decision.

I always encourage my patients to receive influenza vaccination, I vaccinate my own children against influenza every year; the choice for your own children is and ultimately should be, up to you.


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