Shevonne Hunt is the host of Kinderling Conversation.
Being a presenter of a parenting program means I have access to some of the most passionate and talented professionals in the early childhood sector. It’s a privileged position, and one I’m very grateful for.
As we head in to winter, we always start looking for stories to support families through the worst of the colds and flu season. Inevitably that means we talk about the flu vaccine.
I have two children, and while I’ve been vaccinated, I wasn’t sure I wanted my kids to get it. Neither of them love needles (what child does?) and it would mean getting the jab every year.
And then I spoke to Dr Margie Danchin, a paediatrician at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne and a mum of four.
Healthy children are not immune to influenza
The idea that healthy children could still get very sick from the flu chilled me to the bone.
Margie told me, “in terms of hospitalisation, or the more serious end of the flu, half of the children that are admitted to hospital, or even the intensive care unit, are actually previously healthy kids.”
My kids didn’t have any underlying health problems, and I thought they may get a bit sniffly. It never crossed my mind that they could get seriously ill.
Last year was one of the worst flu seasons in Australia for a decade. And while deaths are rare and mainly occur in those aged over 65, healthy children are not immune.
After that conversation with Margie, I decided that my kids would also get the flu shot. And just before we went to the doctor, my daughter got sick. It wasn’t a particularly nasty flu, but she went downhill fast. It illustrated very clearly the impact that kind of illness can have on children.
Even if it’s not a deadly case, the flu can be a nasty experience
People often get confused between a cold and the flu.
Influenza is not the sniffles and a bit of sneezing. As Margie says, “Kids particularly get sicker quicker and they have much more in the way of muscle aches and pains and headaches. Young children can also have nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.”
Listen to Margie on Kinderling Conversation:
There are so many different illnesses we can’t protect our kids from. Gastro, the common cold, nits (okay, so nits aren’t really classified as an illness, but they should be) that I feel that if there is something I can protect them from, I will.
While the vaccine isn’t 100% effective, some prevention is better than none at all
Professor Robert Booy is the Head of Clinical Research at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance. He says that this year’s flu vaccine is 50-70 percent effective, and that’s not insignificant.
“Tell me what other medical intervention is as good as 50 percent effective? There's a whole bunch of things you get from a GP that've got a 20 to 30 percent chance of being effective," he said.
“It is a deadly infection rarely but it is one of the commonest vaccine preventable causes of death in children.”
Listen to Robert on Kinderling Conversation:
Plus, says Robert, this is a very safe, tested vaccine. It’s been used now for over 60 years. You can’t get sick from the flu vaccine, because the virus itself (in the injection) is dead.
There’s a reason why most State and Territory Governments are offering it for free to children
In everywhere but the Northern Territory children aged between six months and four years (five in South Australia) can get the flu vaccine for free. Governments don’t tend to implement such widespread public health initiatives without reason.
The current vaccination schedule we all accept and embrace for our kids protects them from all kinds of nasty diseases; Polio, The measles, Diptheria (to name a few). Now the Government is saying they want to protect our children from the flu, and I for one, am prepared to take that desire on face value.
Robert believes that other parents will be more likely to give their children flu vaccination for similar reasons.
“Parents are much more comfortable with giving their children vaccines that are recommended by the government and paid for by the government. And now that all the state governments are coming on board with recommending and paying for flu vaccination that takes away one of the big concerns parents have had in the past.”
Of course, the vaccine isn’t the silver bullet
I don’t expect that the vaccine is going to stop my children getting sick this winter. I do think it will give them a better chance at staying well, and not to be hit as hard by some of the flu viruses going around.
In addition to the vaccination, Margie Danchin says we still need to teach our children some basic hygiene measures.
“Apart from having the vaccine we very strongly recommend that kids need to be taught to cover their mouth and nose when they are sneezing and coughing and that once they've done that they need to wash their hands.”
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