Expert Q&A: Flu Shots for Children with JA
An expert breaks down flu shot safety for your child with juvenile arthritis.
Question: My child has JA. Is it safe for her to get a flu shot?
Answer: Yes. Many children with juvenile arthritis (JA) are on medications that suppress their immune system, which puts them at an increased risk for developing the flu and having a more severe bout of illness. We also worry about flu complications, which can include pneumonia and ear infections. Additionally, any infection, including the flu, can worsen arthritis symptoms. Because the current flu shot contains an inactivated (dead) form of the virus, your child can’t catch the flu from the vaccine.
Flu shot recommendations are the same for kids with and without arthritis. All children over six months old should get an annual flu shot. Usually, the CDC recommends getting the flu vaccine by the end of October. Earlier is better, because it’s hard to predict when the first flu cases will show up in any given season. The peak of influenza season is usually from December to February, but cases can be identified as early as October.
All your child’s family members and close contacts should also get vaccinated. Unfortunately, vaccines aren’t perfect, which means there is still a chance that children who get the vaccine may still get the flu. If your child is surrounded by people who are protected against the flu, her risk will decrease. Teaching your child to be diligent about infection prevention during flu season, which includes frequent handwashing with soap and water (or hand sanitizer) and avoiding close contact with anyone who appears to be sick, may also help.
Julia G. Harris, MD
Pediatric Rheumatologist, Children’s Mercy Kansas City
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine
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