Children up to age 18 should get flu shots, a federal advisory panel said Wednesday, adding older children and teenagers to a list that until now included children only up to age 5. But the reason for that may be more to keep parents from calling in sick than to protect kids.
Older children get the flu more often than do toddlers and preschoolers, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but they are less likely to fall dangerously ill. Research has shown that it's cost-effective to vaccinate children, because then parents don't have to stay home from work to tend sick kids. If all parents followed this advice, 30 million more kids would get flu shots. But have the researchers considered that millions of parents will have to leave work to take the kids to the pediatrician for those shots? Or that for many parents these days, "sick days" now are still work days, type-madly-at-home days while the sick kid watches SpongeBob?
Although parents could scamper off to the pediatrician right now, this winter's flu season, which has been a nasty one, is all but over. (It takes two weeks to get full protection from a flu vaccine.) ealistically, this new recommendation will affect this fall, when the vaccine for the 2008-09 flu season will be made available. By then, one would hope, the public health experts and the pediatricians will have figured out how to pull off such a massive increase. About 30 million children and teens are now eligible for vaccinations. On average, about 70 million people get flu vaccines each year, almost all of whom have been adults. CDC officials estimate that 7 million children could get flu shots next season as a result but admit that's a rough guess. The real number may well be much lower because, unlike most childhood vaccinations, flu shots have to be repeated each year and teenagers are loath to go to the doctor.
I'm all for protecting public health, but I don't know if I'll march my school-age kid in for a flu shot next fall. Will you? Write and tell me what you think.