health

The one vaccine that isn't compulsory, is highly recommended by doctors.

Mums are worried, but our expert says they don’t need to be.

Your kids are up-to-date with all their vaccinations, right? But you haven’t taken them to the GP to get a flu shot this year. Maybe you think the flu is too mild to worry over. Or maybe you’re concerned that the flu vaccine isn’t safe for kids, after those reports of children suffering febrile convulsions in WA a few years back.

At the same time, you might have read that there’s a particularly nasty strain of flu on the way this year. More than 100 children in the US died from the flu last winter.

There’s still time to get your kids vaccinated before the flu season hits with full force. To help you make up your mind, flu expert Dr Alan Hampson answers your nagging questions about that nasty little bug.

Do kids really need to get flu shots every year?

Dr Hampson says there are “mixed views” on this.

He says if your children have an underlying risk condition, like severe asthma or congenital heart disease, then they should “absolutely” be vaccinated, so long as they’re more than six months old.

You should also think about it if your kids are going to be in contact with vulnerable people, like elderly relatives or anyone undergoing chemotherapy. “Kids are the likely spreaders of flu in the family environment,” he points out. Also, if you and your partner both work, or you’re a single parent, it might be worth getting your kids vaccinated – or thinking about who’s going to stay home to look after them. It’s estimated that 30 per cent of kids will get the flu in any given year.

If your kid isn't vaccinated, they have about a one-in-three risk of getting the flu.

Some children in WA suffered febrile convulsions from the flu vaccine in 2010 and one girl was left brain-damaged. How can I be sure this won't happen to my kids?

These terrible side effects were caused by a particular vaccine called Fluvax. Fluvax is now not allowed to be given to children under the age of five, and only to children under the age of nine in rare circumstances.

But Dr Hampson explains that there are two or three other flu vaccines available that can safely be given to kids. A lot of research has been done to make sure these vaccines are safe, and there's more careful monitoring around now than there was back in 2010.

There are reports of kids still being given Fluvax. How do I know my GP won't give it to my kids accidentally?

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Dr Hampson says it really shouldn't happen. "The syringes are labelled, the packets are labelled, there should be notices on the refrigerator that stores the vaccines," he points out.

But if you're worried, check with your GP that he or she is using one of the flu vaccines approved for children.

How effective is the vaccine? Don't some kids end up getting the flu even though they've been vaccinated?

The vaccine only reduces someone's risk of catching the flu - but it reduces it by a fair bit. Dr Hampson reveals that a trial in WA showed that for children who were vaccinated, their chance of being hospitalised with the flu was lowered by 70 per cent.

Here's a video showing the Studio 10 team discussing immunisation. Post continues after the video...

Do my kids really need to be given two shots the first year they're vaccinated for the flu? Isn't one enough?

For kids under the age of nine being vaccinated for the first time, the recommendation is that they be given two separate shots, four weeks apart.

But Dr Hampson says some studies show that even one shot will give children a "quite reasonable" level of protection.

I've heard people say that they got the flu from a flu injection. Can that happen?

No. Dr Hampson says that's an "urban myth". But the flu vaccine can cause a mild fever that lasts up to a day. "The younger the child, the greater the possibility of a mild fever," explains Dr Hampson.

Another common side effect is a sore arm, which is something up to 30 per cent of people will notice. Crankiness is also common in kids who've had any kind of vaccination. Any more serious side effects should be immediately reported to a doctor.

Dr Hampson says it's up to parents to decide whether to vaccinate their kids against the flu. "My grandkids have been vaccinated for the last umpteen years," he adds, "so I tend to encourage it, yes."

Have you given your kids a flu shot this year?

"Save the Date to Vaccinate is an initiative from NSW Health to remind parents of the importance of on-time vaccinations for children. Visitwww.immunisation.health.nsw.gov.au to download the free ‘Save the Date’ phone app."

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