I always thought that the flu jab was only for old people. The yearly awareness campaigns in the UK always seemed to feature benevolent elderly types, grinning and proclaiming that the injection saved them from a fatal bout of the sniffles.
So I was a little surprised when I saw the recent call from New Century Women and Children’s Hospital urging parents to get their children vaccinated this winter. Surely it’s best for kids to get ill when they’re young and build immunity for their later years?
Surely not. It seems that large parts of the medical community actually support the administering of the flu vaccine in children over 6 months old.
Now I think about it, it’s rather obvious. Influenza is a virus that changes every year. Being immune to one strand is of little consequence next year (which is why a yearly injection is needed to protect against the virus).
So while you may think that seeing the little ones power through, comforted by the belief that it will only make them stronger, it is actually just causing unnecessary suffering. Or perhaps worse.
Flu is actually a pretty nasty illness. People often say “flu” when they mean “cold” (or as it’s known when I get it – “man flu”) but aside from all the vomiting and fevers, the real thing can be serious for children. It can even lead to a hospital stay and more complicated conditions, including pneumonia and bronchitis.
Moreover, by protecting your kid you’re also preventing one of flu’s most effective spreaders from bringing down everyone else around them. Children’s tendency to poke things, put things in their mouths, and generally disregard one another’s personal space, means that they pass the virus on at warp speed. According to Global Times, more than 40 percent of preschoolers miss some time at school each year because of flu.
So, I will happily admit that I was wrong on this one. A little further digging found the real reason why the UK’s National Health Service didn’t promote the vaccination to kids when I was young: it couldn’t afford to roll it out across the country. Now that it can, it is, and all 2- and 3-year-olds in the UK are being offered the vaccination for free.
A free service does operate with some of the schools here in Beijing, but not all. So if your child isn’t provided with a jab, or is below school age, then the good news is that it’s affordable to choose private (it should cost less than RMB 100 per shot). Contrary to my long-held misconception, it is probably worth getting.
Photo courtesy of C. Thomas Anderson (Flickr)