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Get your children's flu vaccines ASAP, physician group urges

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Pediatricians advise now is time to get your children's flu vaccine

As summer wanes and kids head back to school, parents should get the family vaccinated against flu as soon as possible, says the American Academy of Pediatrics in an advisory released today.

There are some new vaccines available, but the advisory says they are not worth the wait.

“With the exception of children less than 6 months of age, everybody should go out and get their influenza vaccine as soon as the influenza vaccines are available,” said Dr. Michael Brady, who is with the Nationwide Children's Hospital and also serves as chairman of the Committee on Infectious Diseases for the Academy.

Dr. Henry Bernstein, a pediatrician from the Hofstra North Shore – Long Island Jewish Health System in New York, added that parents should not delay vaccinating their children to obtain a specific vaccine.

“Influenza virus is unpredictable, and what’s most important is that people receive the vaccine soon, so that they will be protected when the virus begins circulating,” he explained.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the number of Americans who die from influenza each year is anywhere between 3,000 to 49,000, and up to 200,000 end up sick enough that they have to be hospitalized.

Last year was a particularly harsh flu season that killed 160 children due, in part, to the severity of strains that were going around.

Meanwhile, there are some new vaccines coming out this year that are supposed to protect against four different strains of influenza.

“Normally, there are three strains in the influenza vaccines,” Brady noted. “Normally, the vaccine would have two influenza A strains – an H1N1 and an H3N2 strain – and one B strain.”

Some of the new vaccines will protect against two different B strains of flu.

“Theoretically, four strains sounds better than three strains. We just don't have data to support that that's actually the case,” Brady said. “The AAP is not going to recommend a preference, but that doesn't mean that parents don't have a preference.”

The popular, needle-free FluMist version will be a four-strain vaccine.

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“Some parents would prefer that their child didn't need to have an injection. So the mist has an advantage from that point of view,” Brady explained.

However, the majority of physicians will likely offer two or more different types of vaccination.

“The companies can't make enough four-strain vaccines to meet all the demands, so for (the) 2013-2014 influenza season, providers are going to have a mixture of the different vaccines,” Brady told NBC News.

“Hopefully by 2014-2015 season, all of the vaccines will be four strains,” he added.

In the meantime, the new Flublok vaccine will be available this year for those who have egg allergies.

According to the CDC, Flublok is a trivalent (three component) influenza vaccine that has been FDA approved for use in adults between the ages of 18 to 49 years. The new vaccine was licensed in January to Protein Sciences Corp., and does not use the influenza virus or chicken eggs in its manufacturing process.

The CDC says that most of the flu vaccines offered for the 2013-2014 season will be trivalent. However, there will also be some seasonal flu vaccines formulated to protect against four flu viruses, also known as quadrivalent flu vaccines. All nasal spray vaccines are expected to be quadrivalent, but this makes up only a small portion of total vaccine availability.

Unfortunately, many Americans fail to get flu vaccines, usually because they think the flu won’t be a serious health threat, or because they mistakenly believe a flu vaccine will make them sick.

“One of the problems that we see with giving millions and millions of doses of vaccines is that people will get other illnesses that aren't influenza near the time that they receive the influenza vaccine and because it's temporally related, they have a tendency to believe the vaccine was responsible,” Brady said. “But it's usually something else unrelated to the vaccine and unrelated to influenza.”

Moreover, it takes around a week for the flu vaccine to go into effect and provide optimal protection.

Everyone older than 6 months is recommended for flu vaccination with rare exception. The CDC says that vaccination to prevent influenza is particularly important for persons who are at increased risk for severe complications from influenza, including those who:

• are aged 6 months through 4 years (59 months);
• are aged 50 years and older;
• have chronic pulmonary (including asthma), cardiovascular (except hypertension), renal, hepatic, neurologic, hematologic, or metabolic disorders (including diabetes mellitus);
• are immunosuppressed (including immunosuppression caused by medications or by human immunodeficiency virus);
• are or will be pregnant during the influenza season;
• are aged 6 months through 18 years and receiving long-term aspirin therapy and who therefore might be at risk for experiencing Reye syndrome after influenza virus infection;
• are residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities;
• are American Indians/Alaska Natives;
• are morbidly obese (body-mass index is 40 or greater);
• are health-care personnel;
• are household contacts and caregivers of children aged younger than 5 years and adults aged 50 years and older, with particular emphasis on vaccinating contacts of children aged younger than 6 months; and
• are household contacts and caregivers of persons with medical conditions that put them at higher risk for severe complications from influenza.

1. The American Academy of Pediatrics, Recommendations for Prevention and Control of Influenza in Children, 2013–2014 (published online September 2, 2013); doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-2377
2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2013-2014 Flu Season