Influenza vaccine is for everybody
Influenza, the flu virus, has arrived. It can be a serious infection, and it’s too soon to tell if this year’s epidemic will be as severe as last year’s was.
When I first started in medicine, influenza vaccine was generally only recommended for the elderly or those with some serious underlying condition involving their hearts or their lungs. That’s changed now, and for good reason: the higher the rate of vaccination in the population, the better the degree of herd immunity. For some infections, such as pertussis, a key to reducing the rate of infection is to stop its transmission among those who may only get mild cases, because that interrupts the chain of infection. Influenza is like that. The recommendation now is that nearly everybody should be vaccinated against it.
We also discovered last winter that the new so-called H1N1 strain of influenza could cause severe disease in otherwise normal people. For example, I cared for several children who required several weeks in the PICU on a mechanical ventilator before they improved.
The influenza vaccine is far from an ideal one. This is largely because the virus changes every year and the vaccine mixture needs to be tweaked annually to account for this. We have two types of vaccine — a shot in the arm and a mist blown up the nose. Depending upon you (or your child’s) age, the recommendations differ for which one you should get.
The national Centers for Disease Control (the CDC) explains the basis for their recommendation for near universal influenza vaccination here. It’s a bit heavy reading in spots, but it is the best expert opinion available on the matter.