Not quite sure whether to give your child the flu vaccine or not? With so many different schools of thought, it’s best to hear what a doctor has to say.
The start of the winter months in Hong Kong often means one thing for worried parents – the onset of seasonal influenza. Even with teachers and staff taking every possible precaution in schools (masks, sanitisers, distanced seating, etc.), we know it’s almost impossible to guarantee 100% protection to students. We spoke to Dr Niki Tracy, specialist in Paediatrics & Child Health, for her advice on flu prevention.
Flu vaccines in Hong Kong: Do you recommend them and why?
Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone who is six months and older. Children are at particular risk as they can catch and spread the flu easily. Flu vaccination helps to prevent influenza transmission and outbreak at school.
There are two types of flu vaccines available for children in Hong Kong. The traditional one (inactivated flu vaccine injection) and the newer nasal spray (live-attenuated flu vaccine).
Can you tell us more about the nasal spray flu vaccine? What are the benefits?
It’s easy to use. Since it’s a nasal spray, children don’t need to be afraid of getting an injection. Also, as no injection is needed, there will be no swelling or soreness at the vaccination site. The nasal spray is quick and easy to administer so the process is fast and smooth. Common side effects are runny noses and nasal congestion, but most side effects are very mild.
Children aged 2 to 4 years who have asthma or have had a history of wheezing in the past 12 months, however, should not receive live attenuated influenza vaccine. Please inform your doctor if this is the case with your child.
Both types of vaccines cover four strains of influenza viruses, and their effectiveness is comparable. Some countries prefer to use the nasal spray flu vaccine for children. In fact, the NHS in the UK provides nasal flu vaccinations for all children aged 2 to 17 years (read about recommendations and medical advice in the UK and US).
Naturally, at these times, parents are worried about COVID-19. Should children over 12 years who have received the COVID vaccine also get the flu vaccine?
Yes – complications can be very severe if children are infected by COVID and flu at the same time so it’s important to receive both vaccines. The COVID and flu vaccines don’t have any contraindications, but it is good to take them at least four weeks apart.
Last but not least, how can parents recognise the symptoms of 1) seasonal flu 2) COVID in children?
It’s quite difficult to differentiate between the two as the symptoms, like cough and fever, are similar. It’s best to seek a doctor’s advice as soon as possible.
Have more questions on seasonal influenza and available vaccines in Hong Kong? Speak to a medical professional who knows your family’s health history to find out what’s best for your child.