No one likes getting sick, least of all kids – and there are plenty of infectious diseases in Singapore that parents hope their kids never catch! We’ve lived through epidemics like Zika, SARS and H1N1, so we know infectious diseases are no joke.
Most parents agree that vaccines are a good preventative measure against infectious diseases and make sure they stay on top of their kids’ immunisation schedule. However, when it comes to the yearly flu vaccine, parents stand divided. Some feel it’s a no brainer since it can help prevent the illness altogether, especially during flu season, while others think it’s unnecessary.
The flu vaccine for kids is not compulsory in Singapore. However, the Ministry of Health recommends those who are at high risk of developing complications from the flu to get the vaccine every year. These include children aged six months to less than five years, as their immunity is quite low.
How does the flu vaccination work?
The flu (or influenza) is a droplet transmitted disease that affects the respiratory system and causes symptoms like high fever, congestion, sore throat and sneezing. The vaccine costs between $20 and $30 (source: HealthHub) and contains a deactivated virus which trains the immune system to identify and attack it at the next encounter. The most common side effects are mild pain and redness in the area the shot was administered.
So what do mums think about the flu vaccine? We ask the Honeykids Team…
Mum-of-three, Tracy says, “For now it would be a no, as flu is often misdiagnosed and the jab not always effective .”
“I am a squillion percent pro-vaccine and would absolutely only ever listen to professional advice on this topic. My kids are fully inoculated with the essentials, and I am a huge believer in protecting my family, and the community, from awful diseases that cause complications that far outweigh the risk of vaccine injury. Gut instinct on the flu jab (with no back-up, I haven’t spoke to a doc on this yet, so please don’t blast me) is that flu is a killer to some for sure, but there are SO many strains of flu that a vaccine seems unnecessary. For now it would be a no. This may change once I have more information. Personally (and I am not a doctor so this is just my opinion) I feel that flu is often misdiagnosed… My kids have a cold? They claim flu (and their teachers tell them they have flu. It’s NOT FLU). Real flu is awful, but the flu jab doesn’t always work and, I believe, can make you feel lousy anyway”
Mum-of-two, Jana says, “If you can do something to prevent your kids from getting sick, that’s better than nothing.”
“I am pro-vaccine. Last year, my then one-year-old son Alonso had the flu vaccine because we were traveling to Korea and didn’t want him to get sick. Although the vaccine doesn’t prevent the flu, it keeps the symptoms at bay. He didn’t get sick, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the vaccine. My stance is that if you can do something to prevent your kids from getting sick (even if it’s a slim chance), you still tried and that’s better than nothing.”
We asked Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an expert on infectious diseases, who practises at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital Singapore, to address some of the top concerns parents have about the flu vaccine…
1. There’s no point vaccinating because the flu vaccination changes every year.
Dr Leong: “The flu vaccine composition changes every 6 to 24 months. No vaccine means you get no protection for that year. It’s like insurance – in the year you pay for insurance, you get protection, in the years you don’t pay, you don’t.”
2. The flu is just like a cold, but a bit more serious, it’s not that dangerous.
Dr Leong: “Influenza is more than a serious cold. It is very dangerous. The risk of dying or getting hospitalised is several times higher compared to a cold.”
3. My child is super healthy and never gets sick.
Dr Leong: “Every child falls sick when they start attending school. It is part of growing up. Influenza lurks around, and strikes when you least expect it.”
4. There are harmful chemicals in flu vaccinations that are bad for the body.
Dr Leong: “Flu vaccines contain only salted viruses and no chemicals. The viruses are killed and dissected into fragments, and then reconstituted with water. To maintain the stability of the virus particles, a little salt is added. There are several misconceptions that there are aluminium and mercury in them but the influenza vaccines in Singapore do not contain these chemicals.”
5. My child already gets too many shots.
Dr Leong: “Vaccines prevent many illnesses which would otherwise have taken a toll on the lives of our young children. Compared to children in the 1960s where there were little or no vaccinations, children today have a better survival rate and less morbidity. All these can be attributed to the availability of clean water and vaccinations. In other words, getting many shots protects the child from many diseases.”
6. The vaccine isn’t 100% effective.
Dr Leong: “It’s true that the flu vaccine is not 100% effective and breakthrough flu may occur, but those individuals tend to have a milder form of the disease. A study reported a few years ago noted that although individuals who have had the influenza vaccine may still fall sick with influenza, they are less likely to require hospitalisation or develop severe complications compared to those who have not had the vaccine.”
7. My child is allergic to the vaccine.
Dr Leong: “If your child is allergic to the vaccine, they should not take it. But it is very, very rare to have an allergy to the vaccine. The recommendations are still to proceed with the vaccine even with an egg allergy. The exception to this is for individuals who develop an anaphylactic shock to eggs, those who have had a prior allergic reaction to the influenza vaccine, or those who have had Guillain-Barré syndrome, an extremely rare condition that may develop after an influenza vaccine (risks of 1 in 1 million).”
8. Flu shots only work best for adults with a healthy immune system and not for kids.
Dr Leong: “Several studies have shown its efficacy in children, especially those who are immunocompromised, with asthma or respiratory difficulties. The irony is that the poorer the health of the individual, the greater the benefit.”
9. I can prevent the flu with Vitamin D supplements and a healthy diet.
Dr Leong: “Having adequate vitamin D supplements and a healthy diet may reduce the more severe symptoms, but it does not negate you from an infection. Only the influenza vaccine may prevent the disease.”
Ultimately, the choice to vaccinate your child is yours and if you need more information, speak to your family doctor.
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