Why Allergic Kids Need to be Vaccinated Against the Flu Too

It's Our Job to Protect Those Who Need Protection the Most

by: Alex Thom
Why Allergic Kids Need to be Vaccinated Against the Flu Too

My son was born with many food and environmental allergies, and his immune system often seems...a little confused. It likes to throw us curve balls: reacting to things that should be totally safe for him, making him susceptible to every germ that floats through his school, and giving him asthma. He recently spent four days in the hospital after what I thought would be a quick visit to the ER for bronchitis. As it turned out, he was having a very severe asthma attack - but before that, we didn't even know he had asthma. Seeing him struggle to breathe was so scary. He was on oxygen and hooked up to random beeping machines for days. I never left his side.

For those of us who have children with severe allergies, it's very important that we protect them against the flu virus (and all viruses) because of their compromised immune systems. After contracting the flu, many people will experience fatigue, fever and some aches and pains but influenza can also result in more serious things like pneumonia, and even death. For someone like my son, these are very real threats. Higher-risk groups include kids under five (even healthy ones), pregnant women, and those over 65. For their sake, as well as my son's, my whole family gets the shot.

Even a minor cold can lead to major complications for our allergic kiddo, so when flu season approaches, we head to our doctor for our flu shots.

Know the facts about the flu virus and vaccine

Herd immunity is something we strongly believe in, and the flu shot is the best defence against the flu. Generally, influenza vaccines offer about 60% protection when the vaccine and circulating strains are well matched, however, influenza vaccine effectiveness can vary from year to year. It is too early to predict with certainty if this year’s influenza vaccine will be a good match for circulating viruses. I know some will scoff at that, and many use the excuse that they've never gotten the flu, so they don't need the shot, but that's not how science works, unfortunately. The opportunity to avoid (or pass on) a very serious virus is enough for us to want to protect ourselves, and those around us.

In Canada, 10-20% of our population is likely to get sick with the flu, and it's estimated that more than 12,200 people are hospitalized each year for flu-related complications. The scariest fact? More than 3,500 will die of the flu. That's not inconsequential! And since kids run such a high risk of serious complications, we happily roll up our sleeves. It's not only kids like my allergic and asthmatic son who are at risk, it's all kids. It's your kid, your neighbour's kid, and the kids in our communities.

If you're wondering just how safe the flu shot is, please do your research. It won't make you sick. You do need a shot yearly. It is safe.

The flu nasal spray will be offered for free this year!

The free nasal spray flu vaccine is available for those between the ages of two and 17. This is fantastic news, right? My kids (and probably yours too!) are terrified of needles, so the nasal spray vaccine will make the whole process smoother for all of us. (Plus, I won't have to bribe my kids with new toys to get their needles without tears, hooray!)

The nasal spray flu vaccine will help offer broader protection against four flu viruses instead of three. The added protection comes against an additional B-strain of the flu virus, which affects children and youth more frequently than adults.

Kids can still get the needle version (and it will cover the same four strains), while the adult version of the vaccine will protect against three strains.

Without the vaccine, it's pretty difficult to protect ourselves against the flu. Germs from sneezes can travel up to six feet (gross!), and the flu virus can live on surfaces for up to eight hours (even grosser!). That means every doorknob, every shopping cart handle, every public space should be treated as suspect.

You can get your flu vaccines (both needle and nasal spray) at your health care provider's office (we have to make appointments for ours), public health offices and participating pharmacies in Ontario.

Stay healthy this flu season!

This post was developed in association with the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. The opinions of the author are their own. For additional information on the flu or to find out where to get a flu shot, click here.