Kids’ flu vaccine myths … busted!
ZoomDoc and health experts separate fact from fiction for parents’ peace of mind on the topic.
With many schools rolling out kids’ flu vaccines this month (November), you may still be wondering whether or not to consent to your child getting it, when the letter arrives in your inbox.
Maybe you’ve read or heard some alarming ‘facts’ online. Or perhaps one of the other parents swears it gave her child the ‘actual’ flu last time.
While it’s 100% your choice whether your child has this seasonal vaccine (usually administered in the form of a nasal spray), make sure you know all the facts about it before opting out.
Here’s ZoomDoc’s Chief Medical Officer, GP and father of three, Dr Kenny Livingstone, to separate fact from fiction and help make things crystal clear when it comes to the safety, efficacy and importance of flu vaccines for kids.
- Myth: ‘The flu vaccine will give kids the flu’
Although it’s possible for children given the nasal flu spray to develop side effects such as a runny nose or other cold-like symptoms, this is not the same as giving them the flu, explains Dr Kenny:
‘It’s simply not possible to get the flu from having the flu vaccine as it contains no live virus. Any side effects that occur will be mild, last a day or two at the most and are nothing like having the actual flu, which can cause severe illness, complications and even require hospital treatment.’
- Myth: ‘Flu is just a bad cold – there’s no need to vaccinate against it’
Although often labelled as a ‘bad cold’ the flu is actually something different. Caused by the influenza virus, it can be quite unpleasant for kids and can lead to serious conditions such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
‘Although some symptoms overlap between colds and flu, the flu tends to come on much more suddenly than a cold and can make you feel exhausted and much more unwell,’ says Dr Kenny.
- Myth: ‘My child’s healthy and will fight off flu easily’
While it’s great that your child is fit and well, it’s not a reason not to have a vaccine, says Dr Kenny:
‘The flu spreads easily amongst kids and can affect anyone, healthy or not. Vaccinating against it not only prevents them getting poorly and possible complications if they get flu, it also helps protect others who are vulnerable from catching it, such as babies and elderly people, or those who simply can’t have the vaccine for health reasons.’
What’s more, this year, health experts are expecting higher levels of flu around because things have gone back to normal in terms of people and crowds mixing and a lack of social distancing and wearing masks, which’ll mean viruses will find it easier to circulate.
Taking up the vaccine when it’s offered will take pressure off the NHS, which is already struggling.
Read more about the expected ‘twindemic’ this winter, here.
- Myth: ‘My child has asthma and the vaccine could make it worse’
Not true, say health experts at ZoomDoc as well as Asthma UK, which explains how beneficial the flu vaccine can be for asthmatic children on its website. It says:
‘Even if you only have mild asthma, flu can trigger asthma symptoms and increase your risk of a life-threatening asthma attack. Getting the flu vaccine can make a big difference to your asthma during the winter months. If flu triggers your asthma symptoms, getting the flu vaccine can help you manage your asthma better. This means fewer trips to the doctor or hospital.’
If your child’s asthma is particularly severe, they’ll be offered the injection form of the vaccine, rather than the nasal spray.
- Myth: ‘The flu nasal spray doesn’t work if they blow their nose afterwards’
Most children will receive the flu vaccine in the form of a pain-free and very quick spray up the nostrils, rather than an injection in the arm.
‘This doesn’t mean it’s any less effective and will still work even if your child gets a runny nose, sneezes or blows their nose after having it,’ says Dr Kenny.
However, NHS advice does state that if your child has a temperature or particularly blocked or runny nose at the time of their appointment, they may need to delay until they’re better.
- Myth: ‘The flu nasal spray contains pig and other nasty ingredients’
The seasonal flu vaccine is tweaked every year to ensure it offers the best possible protection against identified strains. This year’s nasal spray brand is Fluenz® Tetra, which clearly states that it contains traces of pork gelatine in its patient information leaflet.
If this means it is unsuitable for your child, the injection, which doesn’t contain this ingredient can be given instead.
‘Other ingredients include small amounts of weakened flu viruses. These might sound ‘nasty’ but are actually the clever part of the vaccine because by weakening these viruses, they don’t cause the disease but actually help protect your immune system against it, should you come into contact with it,’ says Dr Kenny.
Remember, no vaccines can be approved in the UK without passing strict safety and efficacy checks carried out by the UK’s Independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). It also has to be recommended by the JCVI (the Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation).
- Myth: ‘I can always get my child a flu vaccine later’
According to the NHS, the ‘best time to have a flu vaccine is in the autumn before flu starts spreading.’
‘It takes up to 14 days for your immune system to build up a response and offer protection, so really you don’t want to leave it much later,’ says Dr Kenny.
‘That said, it is possible to have the vaccine later should your child be unwell on the day of their appointment, or miss it for some reason.’
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