Vaccines: The Flu Vaccine

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Vaccines: The Flu Vaccine




Guest:  Dr. Paul Darden – Pediatrics

Host:  Dr. Linda Austin – Psychiatry


Dr. Linda Austin:  I’m Dr. Linda Austin.  I’m talking, today, with Dr. Paul Darden who is Professor of Pediatrics and an expert in epidemiology and vaccination.  Dr. Darden, let’s talk about the flu vaccine for kids.  Why should kids get the flu vaccine?


Dr. Paul Darden:  Well, the kids should get flu vaccines because, of course, the younger ones get admitted to the hospital just as often as the elderly.  So, children under two have significant problems with the flu.  They get sick.


Dr. Linda Austin:  What happens when they get sick?  How sick do they get?


Dr. Paul Darden:  They get fever, they cough, their body aches.  And we worry, when we look at them, that they have a severe disease, and so they end up in the hospital.  Now, to be honest, there’s less chance of death in the young than there is in the elderly, but the chances of getting admitted to the hospital is actually just as much and in some cases greater than the elderly.  And we now recommend it for kids six months to five years.  And those under six months, or those who for whatever reason can’t get the flu vaccine, we recommend that their family members be immunized.  So, if you have a new baby, it’s time to get your flu vaccine.


Dr. Linda Austin:  I understand there’s a new form of the flu vaccine.


Dr. Paul Darden:  There is.  It’s the cold-adapted influenza virus vaccine, and the trade name is Flu-Mist.  It’s a nasal spray.  For all of us, myself included, who don’t like to get shots, you can now get the flu vaccine with a nasal spray.  It’s not recommended for quite the same ages, it’s 2 – 49 years, but it is a flu vaccine that is a nasal spray.


Dr. Linda Austin:  So, can’t 50-year-olds get that?


Dr. Paul Darden:  I’m very disappointed, having passed that point myself.  It really just hasn’t been studied in that age group.  Something that is probably not unexpected is that the young have better immune systems.  They react better to vaccines.  As you get older, you don’t react as well.  This vaccine actually seems to protect longer.  It seems to protect against more strains than the injected vaccine.  So, for the younger, as in, from my perspective, those under 40, but including children, it’s a very nice alternative to the traditional injected flu vaccine.


Dr. Linda Austin:  I understand that kids actually can often be the source of entry of flu virus into a household.


Dr. Paul Darden:  It’s actually, probably, a common way for flu to enter the house.  School kids, not unexpectedly, all get together and intermingle and cough on each other, so schools are a very common place for flu to start and to be spread around.  And then, of course, the children, after being in school and getting exposed, come home to the family, to that new baby, to grandma, or to people who expect to go to work everyday.

Dr. Linda Austin:  When in the season is it too late to get the flu vaccine?


Dr. Paul Darden:  It’s probably too late if the disease has reached its peak in your community.  So, I would actually, if the flu vaccine is available, get it.  Flu vaccine is usually available, in some respects, up until April, from, maybe, as early as September, always by October, up until at least February and sometimes as late as April.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Do they think that this year will be a tough year for the flu?


Dr. Paul Darden:  You know, it’s always hard to tell.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Kind of like predicting hurricanes, huh?


Dr. Paul Darden:  It’s very much like predicting hurricanes.  We predict severe seasons and then we don’t see them, and we say for mild and it’s a severe one.  I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how severe the disease is supposed to be this year.  We have had our first confirmed case in Charleston, so it’s time to get the flu vaccine.  That means the disease is starting here, but we may still be a month or more away from seeing a significant number of cases.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Is it possible to have gotten a vaccine so early in the autumn that it doesn’t last the entire season.


Dr. Paul Darden:  You know, Linda, that is a possibility.  The injected flu vaccine probably lasts only three or four months.  The nasal spray flu vaccine lasts longer than that.  And, in children, it probably has, in fact, protection into the next season.  So, when do you want to get it?  Well, I usually recommend waiting until late October or November.  I think then is the perfect time to get it because you’ll almost certainly have gotten it before flu hits your community and, probably, you’ll be protected through the most likely time for the flu epidemic.  But, still, it’s truly never too late.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Why is it that flu season is in the winter?


Dr. Paul Darden:  I don’t know.  You know, we think it may vacation in the Bahamas.  Just kidding.  We actually look for flu in the Asian countries and in the southern hemisphere because it seems to follow the same season as we have here, but with their seasons reversed.  They see it when we’re not seeing it.  And we look for the new strains there.  And, actually, in April or May, the CDC chooses what they think will be the flu virus we will see in the United States next year.  And it takes about six months for the vaccine companies to produce the new vaccine. 


Dr. Linda Austin:  Dr. Darden, thank you so much.


Dr. Paul Darden:  Thank you, Linda.


If you have any questions about the services or programs offered at the Medical University of South Carolina or if you would like to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians, please call MUSC Health Connection:  (843) 792-1414.


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