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Flu (influenza) vaccine protects against influenza. Influenza is a viral disease that can become severe, even in healthy people. Usually you only get a week of high fever and cough. But some children are admitted to the intensive care unit every year for the flu. The risk of severe illness is higher for chronically ill children or children with compromised immune systems.
Flu (influenza) vaccine
The flu virus is mutating all the time. There are different strains circulating every year and the vaccine changes to meet this. Vaccine production is based on predictions of which strains will circulate and these vary in accuracy from year to year. The influenza vaccine is most effective if the entire population is vaccinated. This results in herd immunity which will protect those who cannot vaccinate themselves.
Since a few years back, the United States has recommended everyone over 6 months of age to be vaccinated against influenza.
In Sweden, children with chronic diseases are recommended the influenza vaccine
In Sweden, the vaccine is recommended to people in medical risk groups eg. all elderly people over the age of 65 are a risk group and chronically ill people. Vaccinating only medical risk groups is not as effective as vaccinating the entire population.
The children who are recommended flu vaccinations are:
- Children with chronic heart disease
- Children with chronic lung disease (for asthma, this applies to those with severe asthma)
- Children with severely compromised immune systems (as a result of illness or medication)
- Children with chronic liver failure
- Children with chronic renal failure
- Children with unstable diabetes
- Children with extreme obesity
- Children with neuromuscular disorders that affect their breathing
- Children with multiple disabilities (i.e. severely brain-damaged children)
These children receive the vaccination for free. Some hospitals are good at keeping track of the children who should be vaccinated and reminding their parents. Others, are not so good. In general, I believe that we could do better. The good thing is that the group of aforementioned children, can attend any health center or vaccination agency with a care providers’ agreement, and ask for a vaccination. There are clear guidelines from the infectious disease doctor that contracted centers have a responsibility to vaccinate everyone in the risk group upon request.
Pregnant women should be vaccinated against influenza
There is a greater risk of severe flu disease in pregnant women than in adults. Therefore, pregnant women are recommended the flu vaccine.
Adults who have the diseases above are also recommended vaccination (free of charge).
Everyone over the age of 65 are recommended vaccination (free of charge).
Family members of people who are advised to vaccinate free of charge should also be vaccinated. This protects the sick or elderly family member who may be vaccinated but not adequately protected. My children will be given vaccines to protect their retired grandmother and grandfather, whom they meet several times a week.
The fact that the flu vaccine reduces sick days in winter, is a reason to vaccinate.
What about narcolepsy?
The incidence of narcolepsy following vaccination with Pandemrix 2009 (a vaccine against swine flu) was the worst drug disaster since the Thalidomide scandal, in my view. Pandemrix was developed in a hurry, and tested on very few people. It had a very strong adjuvant, an agent in vaccines that improves the immune response of a vaccine. Pandemrix was the only vaccine that gave narcolepsy, not the other swine flu vaccines. Natural swine flu infection also increased the risk of narcolepsy, but not as significant as Pandemrix.
There is data to suggest that the strong adjuvant used was possibly interacting with the virus part itself. The same part of the virus is found in the seasonal flu vaccine Fluraix and that has not been shown to cause narcolepsy. In Sweden and the EU (except Finland) the pharmaceutical authorities do not consider that the risk of narcolepsy would be increased with Fluarix. However, Finland has acted differently and does not recommend Fluarix to children under the age of 18. Other seasonal influenza vaccines contain viral parts produced in other laboratories, in slightly different ways, and are also considered by Finnish authorities to be safe to use in children.
When should my child be vaccinated?
As soon as possible, when the vaccine has arrived. Children who have not previously received seasonal influenza vaccines, should have two doses one month apart. For those who have received a previous dose, one dose is sufficient.