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Are Flu Shots Safe For Kids?

 There's a new study in the Thursday issue of the New England Journal of Medicine that suggests vaccinating children against the flu may be a good idea. Up until now health experts have been reluctant to recommend the flu vaccine for kids because there haven't been enough studies done to support it. Health Contributor Dr. Bernadine Healy looks at both sides of the controversy on Thursday's Early Show.

The study found that healthy children younger than one year are hospitalized for respiratory complications during the flu season at rates similar to adults in the high-risk category. And while vaccinations are recommended for these adults, they are not given to infants under 6 months old, and aren't part of the regular vaccine regimen for most healthy kids.

Currently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is not associated with this study, strongly recommends the flu vaccine for adults over 65, for children over 6 months old that are in high-risk groups (kids with asthma, diabetes as well as those who have compromised immune systems) and for adults that are in high-risk groups, or people like health-care workers or family members of those in high-risk groups. The CDC says if parents are interested in vaccinating their healthy children with the flu vaccine, they should discuss the matter with the family doctor and make a decision together.

Why not vaccinate children against the flu?

When children are hospitalized with influenza and related complications, there's no resemblance to a 65-year-old patient that's hospitalized with pneumonia. And that's the impetus for vaccinating people over 65 - the concern with secondary bacterial complications. Not enough studies have been done on the effect of the vaccine on children. Just last year the CDC asked for a recall of a vaccine that prevents the rotavirus, which the previous year had been recommended by the government to be given to all children. So before we put anything into our kids' bodies, we want to be very sure that it's safe. Some studies of that vaccine in children have suggested that it may not be effective in young kids at all since children's immune systems are quite different from adults and the elderly.

Note to parents:

Wash your hands regularly and your kids' hands and keep the kids out of environments where there are flu infected people. Hand washing may be as effective as a vaccine. Carry those hand sanitizers in your purse. Adults with the flu should always be kept away from infants. Kids who do fall into the high-risk category should be getting annual flu vaccines.
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