Flu shots are for sickly, elderly but not for healthy children


Q: The papers keep reminding people to get their flu shots. Can I get them for my children? Every winter they miss school several times with the flu.

A: The flu shot you have been reading about is given in the fall to vaccinate against the influenza virus that usually begins to circulate in the United States in December or January. Influenza virus infection often makes people quite ill. They have fever, headache, runny nose, cough and muscle aches. They often feel so ill they decide to stay in bed. Influenza is a much bigger illness than the usual cold. A flu shot keeps many people from getting influenza altogether; others get only a mild case.

Should your children get flu shots? Probably not. Only a few children need them. Immunization against influenza is recommended for people who are likely to get especially sick if they get influenza. The elderly and people with chronic diseases, especially those that affect the lungs, are particularly likely to have complications with influenza. They are the ones who should be immunized. Health-care workers should be immunized, too. But healthy children are not on the list for influenza vaccine.

Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.

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