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A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Understanding the Flu Vaccine

7 Things Pediatricians Want You to Know About the Flu

I’ve had influenza twice:

The first time, I was pregnant and skipped my vaccine. Yup. That’s right – your blogging pediatrician. I was irrationally scared of getting the vaccine because I was pregnant. Then, when I got influenza – with a fever of 104 degrees, a cough that shook the house, and an inability to stand because I fainted when I did – I was scared that I would lose my baby. I was terrified that my poor choice would cost her life.

The next time, I got exposed to H1N1 at work, back when it was called the swine flu and we had no vaccine for it. My son was exposed at school, so we spent a week lying in my big bed, incapable of doing anything to help ourselves.

Because of these experiences, I find it hard to speak calmly about the flu vaccine. So, I asked several of my colleagues for one bit of information that they really wished every parent understood about fighting influenza. Here’s what they said.

Getting vaccinated isn’t just for you – it protects those around you!

  • “The flu shot protects not only your child but also people around your child, like their elderly relative, best friend who has asthma, classmate’s baby sibling, or healthy teacher who would rather be in the classroom than home sick for a week.”
    Dr. Sarah Browne, KP San Mateo
  • “I want my kids to enjoy their grandparents for many years to come. Getting kids vaccinated for the flu is the least I can do to help ensure that happens for them and for other families too.”
    Dr. Ken Hempstead, KP Roseville
  • “It’s not every day that you can do something to protect a baby or a senior citizen from a potentially devastating disease. What a great silent gift to give!”
    Dr. Elio Gizzi, KP Richmond

Even healthy kids are at risk.

  • “I wish parents understood that the flu can pose a serious health threat, even to previously healthy kids. Each year previously healthy children die from influenza and its complications. As doctors, we see that and want parents to understand how scary influenza can be.”
    Dr. Ben Deters, KP Napa

Pediatricians get flu shots.

  • “I get the flu shot every year.  It protects me from getting the full-blown illness with its high fever, muscle aches, terrible cough, and misery at night. I recommend it to all the kids and families that I take care of because it’s safe to give and actually works!”
    Dr. Dewey Woo, KP San Francisco
  • “I believe in the flu shot. I get one myself and my wife and kids get one. We are always the first to get our flu shots.”
    Dr. Ludovico Redula, Jr., KP Modesto

Influenza is not just a cold.

  • It’s far more serious.  Dr. Firas Salim, from KP Vacaville, teaches his patients that the common cold is different from real influenza. With colds, you get congestion, cough, and mild fever for a few days. With influenza, your child will have a high fever and can be in bed for a longer time.
  • Dr. Harry Duh, from KP Hayward, says “In fact, the flu may potentially cause more than 50,000 deaths per year in the United States alone. Getting the flu vaccine may prevent two-thirds of flu-related deaths in children.”

Your child will still get colds.

  • Despite getting the flu vaccine, your family will still get colds. KP San Mateo’s  Dr. Sarah Nanni told me that many parents say, “I gave them the flu shot last year, and they still got sick.” Dr. Nanni then explains, “Your child may get multiple colds per year. The shot won’t prevent colds. The flu vaccine prevents a serious, life-threatening illness caused by the influenza virus.”

Everyone over 6 months old needs a vaccination.

  • Kids need 2 shots in their first year: “First dose primes, second dose protects,” said Dr. Angela Zarate, from KP Santa Rosa. She also reminds us that since babies under 6 months cannot get the vaccine, everyone over 6 months old needs a flu vaccine to protect the babies in their community.

This 2017-18 flu season is shaping up to be worse than usual. Dr. Dawn M. Belardinelli from KP Daly City points out that by watching what happens in the southern hemisphere we can see that this year’s flu strain will be worse than usual. In fact, Australia has had 2.5 times their normal rate of flu this year!

More resources for parents

  • To find a flu vaccination center near, or learn how to treat flu symptoms if your child becomes ill, visit our Cold and Flu page on My Doctor Online.
  • If you’re concerned about your child’s health this winter, there are several ways to talk with your doctor: in-person visits, email, telephone, and video appointments. Video visits work very well, provide ultimate convenience, and limit exposure to illness from others.