Health experts say no to the nasal spray flu vaccine this year but kids still need a flu shot

Boy getting a shot

Source: Pond5

Guest post by Jeffrey Holmstrom, D.O., Regional Vice President and Senior Clinical Officer for Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield in Maine. 

It’s early October and flu season has already arrived here in Maine. But before the season begins in earnest parents have some important choices to make.

It has been widely reported that a nasal spray vaccine used in one-third of the vaccines given to younger children is no longer recommended by public health experts because of its lack of effectiveness. Some parents may have opted for the nasal spray vaccine in past years to avoid their children’s fears of getting a shot.

While parents might be tempted to skip their children’s vaccine this year on that account, there are some compelling reasons why they shouldn’t. Children’s immune systems are still developing the ability to make antibodies that fight off sickness, which makes them more at risk for serious flu-related complications like pneumonia and dehydration.

Also important, immunizing children helps to reduce flu among unimmunized contacts within the household and community. This may be particularly helpful in preventing influenza infection among infants younger than six months and high-risk individuals who did not receive the vaccine.

Of the 108 children who died from the flu in the 2013-14 flu season, 90 percent of them had not been vaccinated — and nearly half of those children had no prior medical conditions. In fact, the rate of hospitalization due to flu for children under two years of age is higher than the hospitalization rate for those more than 64 years old.

To dispel a common myth — just because children were vaccinated last year does not mean they are protected this year. Antibody concentrations to fight flu fall by half only one year after vaccination, according to a 2013 article in Pediatrics. And strains of flu constantly evolve, and what was in last year’s vaccine may not protect children this year.

How can parents lessen a child’s fear?

  • You and older siblings go first. Many clinics can vaccinate the whole family within a few minutes of each other. Have children sit with you as you’re getting the shot. Ask them to hold your hand if they want to and you can do the same for them.
  • Offer a special treat, such as the reading of a longer, well-loved book, a visit to the park or a bike ride as a healthy incentive to get vaccinated. You know what motivates your child.
  • Talk about it first and prepare children so they are not caught off guard by the change from last year.
  • For younger children, a fun Band-Aid or sticker can turn the experience into a “big kid” badge of pride.

Are flu vaccines covered by insurance?

In general, yes, members of most plans are covered completely for flu vaccines and don’t even pay a copay.

If you are on the same plan that existed before the Affordable Care Act was passed and it didn’t cover flu vaccinations previously, then your plan doesn’t cover them now. If you are not sure what kind of plan you have, take a few minutes before planning your vaccination visit to call the customer service number on the back of your insurance card and find out.

Where can you get your family vaccinated?

  • Pediatricians and family doctors often conduct special after-hours and weekend clinics just to provide the vaccine.
  • Many retail pharmacies are well stocked with the vaccines.

While vaccinations may not be appropriate for a few children with certain conditions, they are appropriate for most. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have any concerns. Infants as young as six months old can receive them.

Regardless of where parents go to get vaccinations for their families, the key point is that they go. Studies repeatedly prove that flu shots are a lifesaver — don’t let fear of a quick injection cause your family to take your chances with this potentially fatal respiratory virus.

Note from Diane

Will your children get a flu shot this year? Will you?

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.