The Early Show Medical Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay says the elderly are not the only ones at risk of becoming seriously ill from the flu. She says doctors are urging parents to protect babies and toddlers as well.
Recent research suggests children under age 2 are as likely to be hospitalized with flu complications, such as pneumonia, as are people over age 65. So, the Center for Disease Control has decided to encourage vaccinating babies age 6 months to 2 years old.
Senay says infants younger than 6 months cannot be vaccinated but doctors urge the babies' family and caregivers to get vaccinated so they don't spread the virus to newborns. Older children under the age of 9 getting a first-time flu vaccination, should also get the two-dose requirement because their response to the first shot does not provide enough protection.
And while most people need a yearly flu shot, if a child is getting inoculated for the first time, it needs two doses a month apart — a shot and then a booster one month later. So experts are urging parents not to delay pediatrician visits so their kids get both shots in time. The vaccine is safe, but side effects could occur including, swelling at the site, sometimes a low-grade fever or fussiness for a few days after the flu shot.
The primary side effects of the flu shot are soreness of the arm and redness at the injection site, says Senay. As with any vaccine or medication there may be a rare risk of an allergic reaction.
Officials estimate 94 million doses of the flu vaccine will be shipped, so no there is need to worry about a shortage. But it will take time for the vaccines to be delivered to doctor's offices and clinics. So, people with the highest risk of severe illness during the flu season should be the first ones in line in October. Healthy people can wait to get their shots in November. The American Academy of Pediatrics encouraged pediatricians to stock vaccine for more babies than ever this fall, but it will be a year before flu shots are included in the federal program, an avenue for the needy to get free flu vaccines.
It takes only two weeks after vaccination to reap full protection, and influenza usually starts causing outbreaks in late December or January, according to Senay. It's best not to skip the vaccine, because even in a mild season up to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu, 114,000 people are hospitalized and 20,000 die. While the elderly are a high risk group, when babies are hospitalized for the flu they are exposed to unnecessary antibiotics and germ-filled hospitals.
Flu shots typically cost $20 and parents who need assistance should check local health departments or charity-run vaccine clinics to check for free or reduce priced toddler doses.
Another way to protect yourself from contracting the flu includes hand washing. And remember you can't get the flu from the vaccine, but there are other cold viruses around which you might mistake for the flu.
Again, Senay says the people at risk for the flu are:
- Everyone Over Age 50
- Anyone with chronic medical conditions
- Children age 6 months to 2-years-old
- Residents of nursing and other long-term care facilities
- Women more than three months pregnant during the flu season
- Children of any age on long-term aspirin therapy