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Cold and flu season is a dreaded time for parents. The second your child starts coughing or spikes a fever, you go on high alert: is this the flu? How much school are they going to have to miss? Is the rest of the family going to get sick? Luckily, there is something you can do to help avoid the worst of flu season: make sure the whole family gets the flu vaccine. Dr. Jennifer Kaufman, a pediatrician at the Peninsula Pediatric Medical Group in Menlo Park, CA, with Stanford Children's Health, said getting vaccinated against the flu is particularly important this year. "Last year, we had a very, very slow flu season because kids didn't go to school," she said. "This year we're expecting a busier busy flu season."
Just how much do you know about the flu vaccine? This quiz will help you be extra prepared for this upcoming flu season.
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Which of the following is true about the flu vaccine?
- You can get the flu from the flu shot.
Try Again! Dr. Kaufman said this is one of the most common misconceptions she hears about the flu shot. "It is not possible to get the flu from the flu shot. It doesn't happen and it can't happen. There's no live flu in the flu shot," she explained. Some people might feel achy or feverish in the first 24 to 36 hours after the shot, but that's not the flu. If you or your kids do experience those side effects, Dr. Kaufman recommended taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen, staying well hydrated, and getting plenty of rest.
- Pregnant women can't get the vaccine.
Keep trying! Although children under 6 months old aren't eligible to get the flu vaccine, it's safe for pregnant women. In fact, Dr. Kaufman said it's particularly important to get the flu shot if you're pregnant since the flu can be more severe during pregnancy and the vaccine can also help protect your baby. "If we can boost a pregnant mom's antibodies during pregnancy, those antibodies do get passed through the placenta to the newborn," she said.
- You can get it at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine.
You’re right! It's perfectly safe to get both vaccines at the same time, Dr. Kaufman explains. She strongly encourages parents to make sure their families are vaccinated against both illnesses, as long as they're eligible. "With COVID circulating as well, we really don't have a good sense of what might happen if somebody caught the flu and COVID at the same time," she said.
Why should your family get the flu vaccine?
- To be protected against serious illness.
Right! Perhaps the biggest reason to make sure your entire family is vaccinated against the flu is protecting yourselves from serious illness. Once you've had the flu shot, you're far less likely to be hospitalized with the flu, if you get it at all. "People tend to think of the flu as a really minor inconvenience," Dr. Kaufman said, but she noted that it can lead to more serious complications like pneumonia and encephalitis in children. Making sure your children get the flu shot is a simple way to keep them safe.
- To decrease your chances of getting sick.
Right again! The flu vaccine doesn't guarantee 100-percent protection from the virus, but it can reduce your chances of getting sick — and any parent who's had to stay home with a feverish kid knows that's well worth it. Dr. Kaufman also pointed out that some protection is better than none. "We do have years where the flu vaccine is not a perfect match to whatever influenza virus is circulating," she said. "The greatest thing about the flu vaccine is that even in those years where it's not a great match, we still see protection."
- To limit the spread of the flu.
Spot on! With so many different viruses circulating during cold and flu season, the flu isn't the only thing that could make you sick—something Dr. Kaufman said a lot of people don't realize. "The flu vaccine really protects only against influenza and influenza tends to be fever, cough, body aches, and a stuffy nose in most people," she said. Vomiting, diarrhea, and other symptoms could be a sign you have something other than the flu. Still, ensuring your family is vaccinated against influenza will slow its spread and hopefully help you stay healthy all season long.
When is the best time to get the flu vaccine?
- During peak flu season in January.
Try Again! If you wait until the flu is circulating widely to get vaccinated, the likelihood that you or your family will get the flu increases. "We could see the flu at any time of the year, but it does tend to peak around January and February," Dr. Kaufman said. She recommends that both children and adults get the flu shot as soon as possible for maximum protection. If you or your child have any underlying health conditions, talk to your doctor to find out the ideal timing for the flu shot.
- At the end of flu season in April.
Give it another shot! Better late than never, but it's really best to get the flu shot as soon as possible in the fall. Dr. Kaufman said most doctors will offer the flu shot all the way through the end of flu season in May, but strongly recommends that both adults and children get vaccinated early in the season for the best protection against the virus.
- As soon as possible.
Bingo! Dr. Kaufman recommended that both adults and children get the flu shot as soon as possible this fall, particularly since last year's flu season was so mild. "Typically, our flu season peaks around January and February, but because last year was so unusual, there’s a possibility that we may see those cases come in even earlier," she explained.
Get your family vaccinated
If you have any questions about the flu shot in children, reach out to your child's doctor. "No question is a silly question," Dr. Kaufman said. And if you do eventually come down with the flu? Dr. Kaufman suggested taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen if you have a fever, drinking lots of fluids, getting plenty of rest, and—most importantly—staying home.
No one wants the flu, so make sure your family gets vaccinated against the flu to give them as much protection as possible. Visit a Stanford Children's Health flu shot clinic, or make an appointment with your child's pediatrician. Click here to learn more.