YOU ASKED, WE ANSWERED: Answers to Your Flu Vaccine Questions

Schaffner: Annette, the flu vaccine provides protection against three different strains of the influenza virus each year. Experts at the WHO and FDA do their best to predict which influenza viruses will be causing illness during the next winter, and the vaccine is constructed to protect against those strains.

Because the influenza virus has the ability to change from year to year, the vaccine has to be changed to keep up. That is why we need to get vaccinated against the flu every year.

I do not anticipate that medical insurance companies will require influenza vaccination or will decline payments for influenza or its complications.

Most medical insurance will cover influenza vaccine, but not all do. I wish that all medical insurance policies would pay for influenza vaccine (and other vaccines) so that it would make it easier for everyone to get protected.

Irma from San Diego, Calif., asks: My 10-year-old son is allergic to eggs. Should he have the flu shot?

Schaffner: Irma, if your physician has determined that your son has a genuine egg allergy, then he should not be given the influenza vaccine. Egg allergy is one of the very few medical contraindications to receiving influenza vaccine because the vaccine is made, in part, in eggs. You, your family and all who have contact with your son should be vaccinated so that you do not bring the influenza virus home to him.

Sue from Beaverton, Ore. asks: 'Why are they recommending the flu vaccine for all children? What has changed that they have changed their recommendations midseason? Please be specific. Thank you.

Schaffner: The CDC's advisory committee on immunization practices has recommended that all children, aged 6 months through 18 years, be vaccinated against influenza starting next fall to protect them during the 2008-2009 influenza season and beyond.

The advisory committee made this recommendation after two to three years of study. A number of considerations played a role:

· Children are in the age group in our society that gets the most influenza. Fortunately, they get over the disease rather easily — for the most part.

· However, there is a growing appreciation that young, healthy children can contract influenza and quickly be so sick that they have to be admitted into hospital intensive care units and be put on breathing machines. Sadly, some children are killed by influenza. So far in this influenza season, 22 children have been reported to have died of influenza. There is a growing determination that in the United States, in the 21st century, that our children should not die of influenza if an effective and safe vaccine is available that can offer some protection.

· The children at greatest risk of the complications of influenza are those with certain chronic conditions (heart and lung disease, diabetes, etc). They are not getting effectively vaccinated against influenza at present, even though there has been a recommendation to do so for some time. It is anticipated that by making the recommendation simpler ( vaccinate all children from 6 months through 18 years of age), those at greatest risk will become better protected in the future.

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