The Flu Vaccine
The flu vaccine is a wise investment in your family's health, advises Dr. Ruth Karron, MD, pediatrician and professor of international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The flu can be "pretty debilitating" for a week or more, she warns, and, although it's not typical, it can lead to serious complications, especially for the very young and very old. She strongly recommends that everyone in the family over the age of six months be inoculated against the flu every fall—as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That said, not all pediatricians agree that it is effective or useful to vaccinate children younger than two against the flu.
Still, it pays to stay up to date with other scheduled vaccinations for children as well, in particular—while we're talking respiratory illness—for whooping cough, or Bordatella pertussis. Pertussis is extremely contagious, through a cough, a sneeze, or even a laugh. Babies younger than six months are most vulnerable because they've had fewer than three of the five-shot immunization series against the disease (the diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine), but 11- to 18-year-olds are also at risk as the protection can fade. The AAP now recommends another shot against pertussis at age 11 or 12.
Pertussis looks like the common cold at first, but develops into prolonged coughing spells that can cause the sufferer to make "whooping" sounds when trying to catch a breath; they may turn blue or vomit because of the coughing. Whooping cough killed 5,000 to 10,000 Americans per year before vaccines were available. Now that number is down to around 30.