Olanrewaju Falusi, MD, a pediatrician at Children’s National and Medical Director for Advocacy Education at Child Health Advocacy Institute (CHAI) and an Assistant Director for the LAUnCH Track in the Pediatric Residency Program wrote for “Rise and Shine” that fall is in full swing, which means kids are back in school and it’s time for your family to prepare for the flu vaccine.

Every year, I give the flu vaccine to dozens of kids at Children’s National Health System. Most parents are happy to have their child get the flu shot, but some have questions about side effects, the safety of the vaccine, and if it’s really effective.

Flusi reassures parents by telling them that there’s a unified voice amongst pediatricians: The best way to protect your child from getting sick from the flu is to get them vaccinated against the flu each year. I also proudly show my patients the colorful Band-Aid on my arm the day I get my flu vaccine each year, and I share with them why my husband and young daughter also get the flu vaccine. Here are five reasons why the flu shot is essential for children – even for those who are generally healthy:

1. The flu makes kids very sick

Flu season runs from October to May and the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children over the age of 6 months should be vaccinated. Why? The flu isn’t just a bad cold; it’s a deadly and highly contagious illness that causes the most harm to kids. The flu can have your child in bed for a whole week or more with a fever, painful cough, and body aches. Even worse, the flu can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia, hospitalization, and severe dehydration. Every year, about 20,000 kids younger than 5 years old are hospitalized with complications from the flu. 

2. The flu isn’t just very dangerous, it’s smart and constantly changing

Every flu season is different. Just because your son didn’t get the flu last year, doesn’t mean he can’t get it this year. That’s why at least six months prior to flu season, scientists determine the strains of the virus that are most likely to spread and develop a new flu vaccine.

The flu shot is about 60% effective – not 100% – so it’s possible that your child can catch a strain of the flu virus not covered in the latest vaccine. However, if your child is vaccinated and still catches the flu virus, his or her illness will be less severe than someone who hadn’t been vaccinated. In fact, the flu vaccine has been shown to significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying or ending up in the intensive care unit from the flu.

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