Flu Shot

Q. Last winter, my five year old daughter was hit hard by the flu. While her immune system was fighting the flu, strep throat took hold and she had to take a course of antibiotics. In spite of all of the alternative approaches we utilized, plus excellent nutrition, she really had a rough winter after that. Several people have mentioned that they give their kids flu shots every year. I really do not feel comfortable with this. What is your opinion of flu shots for kids now and then?

A. There are dozens of viruses each winter which get called “the flu” but usually only one virus which actually causes “influenza.” Influenza is a particularly nasty viral illness marked by high fever, achy muscles, some intestinal upset and more. Healthy children and adults are rarely in any danger from influenza even though the rationale for giving this shot involves avoiding missed days of work and school. Many more days of school and work are missed because of other winter illnesses. Some years, influenza doesn’t strike the community and in still more years, the flu shot we have prepared does not prevent the particular type of virus causing influenza.

Whenever I consider using a drug or giving a vaccine, I do a “risk/benefit” analysis: Is the small risk from this drug warranted by the benefit to the child or adult receiving the drug?

For children with asthma or heart problems, for babies who were born quite early and left with residual respiratory problems and for adults at higher risk because of advancing age or failing health, the answer is “yes” but for almost all other children and adults I think the answer is “no.”

Again, there are dozens of winter illnesses and usually only one of these is prevented by the “flu shot.”