In the 2017-18 Healthy Chicago Survey, Jr., Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) teamed up to learn more about child health in the city. In this report, we share results about parents’ decisions regarding their children’s vaccination against flu.
Almost all parents (98%) reported that their children were up-to-date on vaccinations required for school in Chicago. This is good news for child health in Chicago because vaccines are the best method we have to prevent many of the most dangerous childhood diseases. However, 14% of parents said they had refused a vaccination that their children’s doctor recommended.
Among the parents in this survey who had refused at least one vaccine for their child, the majority refused the flu vaccine (83%). One in ten parents (11%) who refused vaccines for their children declined one vaccine that was not the flu vaccine, and 6% of parents declined two or more vaccines that were not the flu vaccine. Among all parents in our sample, 10% refused the flu vaccine.
A national survey found that the flu vaccine is the vaccine children are least likely to receive, both in Illinois and in the United States. For instance, in 2017 only 55% of Illinois children (ages 6 months-17 years old) received the flu vaccine. Furthermore, a recent survey of U.S. adults found that 39% of adults with children in the household did not plan obtain the flu vaccine their children.
High parent refusal rates for children’s flu vaccinations are concerning for children’s health. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 185 U.S. children died from flu-related illnesses in 2017, including 9 children from Illinois. Approximately 80% of U.S. children who died from flu-related illnesses had not received the flu vaccine.
In our survey, when parents indicated that they had refused the flu vaccine for their child, we asked them why they refused the vaccine. The most common reasons for refusal were that parents were worried about the “side effects” (67%), concerned about the “long term health effects” (36%), and that the vaccine “did not seem necessary” (32%). These reasons are consistent with common misconceptions about the flu vaccine.
The most common side effects from flu vaccine injections are mild, including soreness, redness, or tenderness where the shot was given. Serious allergic reactions to flu vaccines are very rare. Some people worry that the flu vaccine can give a person the flu, but the flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness because it does not carry the flu virus.
Flu can be a serious disease, particularly among young children, who are at a higher risk than older children for severe flu-related illness and complications. This is why it is so important to get a flu vaccine, especially for young children. The flu vaccine has been shown to significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from influenza.[i]
When a child receives the flu vaccine, it causes their body to develop antibodies to the flu, which provide protection against the flu virus. As the body builds up antibodies, it may feel like you are “coming down” with an illness, when what is really happening is that the body is building up protection against infection.
The flu vaccine is carefully tailored each year to protect against the flu virus strains that are expected to be most common in communities like Chicago that year. The protection from the vaccine declines over time, and the flu virus changes each year, so it’s important to get a flu vaccine every year.
Additionally, not only does the flu vaccine help to prevent the spread of influenza, it also helps to make the flu-related illness milder if a person does end up catching the flu.
The CDC recommends that all children at least 6 months of age receive the flu vaccine. CDPH has walk-in immunization clinics where eligible children (under 18 years old) who live in Chicago can receive vaccines at no out-of-pocket cost. Annually, from October to December, CDPH holds community influenza vaccination events (86 were held in 2018), including at least one in every ward, offering influenza vaccine at no out-of-pocket cost. Additionally, the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program offers vaccines at no cost for eligible children, through doctors enrolled in the program.
Kids of all ages can get the flu shot at their primary care doctor’s office and at most urgent care centers. Many clinics based in local pharmacies offer flu shots too, but pharmacy clinics have different child age minimums, so it’s a good idea to call ahead. To find a CDPH clinic, CDPH annual flu shot event, or a pharmacy that offers flu shots near you, visit www.chicagoflushots.org.
[i] Flannery, B. et al. (2017). Influenza effectiveness against pediatric deaths. Pediatrics (139;5).