Flu vaccine facts can persuade reluctant parents

Around this time of year, nurse practitioners and physician assistants should be taking a few extra minutes to convince reluctant parents to get their children vaccinated against influenza. 

In 2006, the CDC extended influenza vaccine recommendations to include children aged 2 to 4 years. However, Canada did not institute this recommendation until 2010, which allowed researchers to compare emergency room visits for influenza-like symptoms in Boston and Montreal before and after the U.S. recommendation change. 

Study data recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal indicated that visits for influenza-like symptoms in this age group decreased by 34% after the recommendation change, reminding us that vaccination really works!

Here are some facts that might help you highlight the benefits of influenza vaccine and convince reluctant parents to have their child vaccinated this year:

  • Influenza can be deadly. In the United States last year, 115 children died from influenza, many of whom were previously healthy.
  • If your child is older than 2 years, in most cases he or she may receive the vaccine intranasally and won't even need to get an injection.
  • If your child gets influenza he or she will feel bad. Do you really want your child to suffer from symptoms that can be prevented?
  • Children with influenza are contagious to other unvaccinated family members, including grandparents, who have a higher risk for death from the disease and its complications.
  • If your child becomes ill he or she will miss school for several days, which can impact academic progress.
  • If you are employed, you will also miss several days of work, resulting in unplanned, un-fun use of your paid leave or loss of revenue for your family.
  • Medications used to treat influenza symptoms, such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu, Genentech) and zanamivir (Relenza, GlaxoSmithKline) can be expensive, and their efficacy is limited, especially if started more than 48 hours after symptoms begin.

Take some time to explain to parents the difference between influenza and other viral upper respiratory infections that they or their children may contract during the course of influenza season. 

Many parents mistakenly believe that because their child got sick at some point after receiving the influenza vaccine that it did not work, or if the illness happened within a week or two of vaccine administration, that the vaccine caused the illness. Try to dispel these myths.

And remember to be a good example. Get your flu shot early. Tell your patients that you get vaccinated every year, you did not experience any side effects and you didn't get influenza.

I know it is not easy to have these conversations with parents, but it is our job to be advocates for children's health, and so we must try. Because of your efforts, a few more children and their extended families will have less risk for contracting influenza this season.

Do you have other good points to convince reluctant parents? Share them with us in the comments section below.

Julee B. Waldrop, DNP, FNP, PNP, is the Director of the MSN-DNP Program and an associate professor at the University of Central Florida. She provides health care to children at a local community health center.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MMWR. 2011; 60(33): 1128-1132.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MMWR. 2011;60 (RR01): 1-24.

Hoen AG et al. CMAJ. 2011;183: E1025-E1032.

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