The Flu Vaccine is Back!

It’s flu season again. Each fall, public health officials, doctors, and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) urge Americans to get their flu shots in time for the winter. This week, we will discuss one of the best preventive measures we can take to fight against the flu.

Flu shots are the best way to safeguard children against the spread of the flu virus, according to a recent article on NPR. However, doctors interviewed in the article contend that the flu is underestimated even though it leads to more hospitalizations and deaths among children than any other diseases preventable by vaccinations. And yet, about a third of children in the U.S. are not getting vaccinated because parents either deem flu shots unnecessary or they believe that flu vaccines actually causes their child to become ill with the flu. However, these preconceived notions are untrue.

  1. There are greater implications to flu shots than parents realize. Children in school spend most of their time in classrooms with other children, and the likelihood that at least some of them are ill during the winter is quite high. Vaccines greatly reduce this risk. They are commonly used as examples in classes that teach about positive externalities - all members of society benefit from them in addition to the original individual that received the vaccine. Of course, relying on someone else to be vaccinated and flu-free to ensure one’s own health for an entire season is a risky bet to take.
  2. With regard to the second point, there are many respiratory viruses and colds that circulate in the fall around the time that flu vaccines may be administered, which leads parents to mistakenly assume a causal relationship between the vaccine and a child’s brief illness. However, according to a doctor interviewed in the NPR article, the timing of the flu shot and the “flu symptoms” are coincidental - a child is likely showing symptoms for a different infection altogether. Vaccines are made up of inactive parts of a virus that stimulate an immune response, but do not cause the flu virus to be reconstructed or activated inside the body to make us sick.

Historically, the flu has been a devastating disease, especially for children. We are lucky that modern medicine has reduced it to little more than an annual nuisance, but we must still take care to provide the youngest members of society with the means to fight off infections. The CDC publishes an up-to-date, informative page that explains the different types of flu vaccines available, as well as where to obtain them.  

For the transcript of Dr. Schaffner’s visit on NPR, click here.