Flu Shot Only Option This Year: Tips to Prepare Your Child

flu shot

I get it. Very few kids willingly receive vaccines. In fact, if parents can get in and out of the doctor’s office without tears on visits that contain shots, it feels like a small miracle.

Because of this reality, I wanted to give parents a heads up that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have recommended against the FluMist vaccine this year, leaving the shot as the only vaccine to protect against the flu.

The update from the CDC and AAP is a true testament to how often scientists are evaluating the effectiveness of vaccines.  After evaluating data, the CDC’s committee of immunization experts deemed the FluMist ineffective this past year and the prior three years, and have therefore recommended against it for the time being. Further studies will be conducted to try to determine why the nasal spray was not effective, and if something can be changed in the future to again make the nasal spray effective.

The CDC also found that the flu shot was nearly 60% effective in preventing flu-like symptoms last year, validating the recommendation that all persons six months of age or older should be vaccinated against flu.

Certain populations should make extra effort to receive the vaccine, because they have an increased risk of complications from the flu: women who are pregnant or in the postpartum period and those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or immunosuppression.

Because the nasal spray is not available this year, the shot is the only type of vaccine to prevent the flu. While there isn’t a guaranteed method to alleviate a child’s fears of shots or tears, I do think a little mental preparation can go a long way to preventing those types of reactions.

Here are a few shot strategies that I have used with my kids in the past:

  1. Be honest. I have been honest about vaccines with my kids in the past, and I think it helps build my credibility with them. Yes, it is going to hurt for a couple of seconds, but it will only last a short period of time and the benefits of it far outweigh the small amount of pain.
  2. Explain the benefits. In kid terms, if they get the flu shot, it is less likely that they will get sick. The flu can bring about fever, sore throat, headaches and body aches, cough, and a runny nose that can last anywhere from a couple of days to less than two weeks. That means they would miss out on things they enjoy like birthday parties, holidays, and extracurricular activities.
  3. Give them options. Kids want control, and feel powerless when they have no say in something. While receiving the flu shot has not been an option at my house, I have allowed them to choose which arm they receive it in.
  4. Offering special treats may help. While I try to use bribery sparingly, sometimes it’s necessary. In the past my kids have enjoyed being able to pick out where we go out to eat or what we have for dinner, what short TV show they can watch, or what after-dinner activity we do.

While the flu season typically runs from December to April, the CDC and AAP recommend getting the vaccine by October, so that we have time to fully develop antibodies to protect against the virus. Receiving the vaccine, along with good old fashioned handwashing, can both go a long way to keeping your family healthy this flu season.

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Dr. Robert Frenck

About the Author: Dr. Robert Frenck

Robert W. Frenck, Jr., MD, is director of Clinical Medicine and a vaccine researcher at Cincinnati Children's. He has authored over 60 articles and book chapters on the topic of infectious diseases.

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