My husband, a family physician, is faced with the same question each year from many of his patients:
Should I get a flu shot?
The answer to this question may seem a bit complicated when you look at the science behind whether or not the flu vaccine is effective. But at the end of examining the data, the short answer to that question is, YES.
The confusion on the effectiveness of the flu shot comes from the guesswork used to produce the vaccine. The flu virus changes year to year and most years the flu strains in the vaccine change to match the virus strains that the World Health Organization believes will circulate during the upcoming influenza season. That’s why it’s important to get vaccinated every year. According to science writer, Julia Belluz, in 2012, researchers concluded that “most influenza vaccines have been shown to confer some protection against naturally acquired infection and no evidence for major harms has emerged.”
In the years where the vaccine strains correctly match with circulating strains, the shots are more effective than the numbers suggest.
The flu shot is safe and is the best defence against the flu which is why our family gets vaccinated. Another big reason why I get the flu shot is because my husband and I own a medical clinic and I want to do my part to protect the babies who come in who can’t get their own flu shots and seniors who are most vulnerable to flu complications. You can help protect grandpas and grandmas by getting their grandchildren covered by a flu vaccine!
We have seen some very sick children in our medical clinic. For some, the flu has led to pneumonia and hospital visits. I want to reduce the chance our children will get that sick and spread it on to other little ones. As you know, it certainly doesn’t take long for a kindergarten or pre-school aged child to spread their germs all over their schoolmates.
One year I didn’t get the shot and I happened to develop the flu that winter. It knocked me out for five days! I remember being so hot and achy I couldn’t get comfortable, but I still had to push myself to take care of my little children. There were lots of tears and pleas for help that week. While I may not be able to guarantee I won’t get the flu, I feel better knowing that I’ve done what I can to reduce the risk.
In Ontario, starting this fall, the nasal spray version of the vaccine for children and youth between two and 17 years old is available free of charge. Children in Ontario can get their nasal spray flu vaccines at their health care provider’s offices, local public health units and—those aged five years and older—at participating pharmacies. I’m sure that any parent, nurse or physician who has had to coax a little kid into getting a shot is praising this decision!
Reducing our risk of the flu also means including flu-prevention strategies in our homes.
Tip: I find the best way to get our boys to wash their hands without sounding like a nag all the time is to say to them, “Everyone with clean hands is...(eating/ playing/reading etc.).” I call this parenting strategy an "everyone with tool"—it really works! Another strategy is to use when/thens like this, “When you have washed your hands, then we can eat supper.”
I’m so happy the cost of the nasal spray flu vaccine is now covered in Ontario for children between two and 17. I just had to coax one son through getting a needle at the dentist and the other needed stitches after splitting his forehead open. I’ll take this opportunity to give them one less needle, and one less “bravery prize.”
The nasal spray is a great option for kids who really don’t like needles. If you find that your kids are apprehensive when it comes to needles or vaccinations in general, try this strategy that I've had success with. I’m not one to condone bribery but if my kids are melting down when they need important medical help like vaccines, tooth care, stitches, or a cast, I’m not beyond offering a prize for staying brave through the tough parts. I even sometimes give myself a little extra motivation to get my shots or give blood, by promising to get a treat afterward!