Although influenza rarely kills babies, it can cause serious complications such as pneumonia. According to the CDC, 17,000 children under the age of 2 are hospitalized each year from flu complications, making this age group as likely to be hospitalized for flu as people age 65 and older.
Preventing flu in this age group may also spare more adults from getting sick. "A lot of preschool-age children bring flu home and give it to others in the family," Zimmerman says.
Federal health authorities had discussed recommending the flu vaccine for babies for several years, but held off because of the logistics involved. Babies already receive well over a dozen shots in the early years. Under the flu shot regimen, a baby's first flu vaccination would require that two shots be given a month apart. The second dose would be given before December, if possible. Only one shot annually would be required thereafter.
"The second dose is a challenge," Zimmerman acknowledges. "But a number of doctors' offices are setting up express services where you can just see a nurse for the vaccine, some even during evening hours. A physician doesn't have to see the child in order for the child to have a flu shot."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 07, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
Flu shots --An article in Monday's Health section listed categories of people for whom the influenza vaccine is recommended. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccination for healthy people age 50 to 64 and for anyone who wants to prevent the flu. Those groups were not listed in the article.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday November 10, 2003 Home Edition Health Part F Page 9 Features Desk 1 inches; 69 words Type of Material: Correction
Flu shots -- A story last Monday on the influenza vaccine listed the categories of people for whom the vaccine is recommended. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends vaccination for healthy people age 50 to 64 -- and anyone who wants to prevent the flu. These groups were not listed in the story because their risk of complications is not as high as older people.
As in adults age 65 and older, some babies may have a slight fever from a flu shot.
But Zimmerman urges Americans to put the importance of vaccination over inconvenience and minor side effects.
"The number of deaths in adults and hospitalizations is the reason we use the vaccine," he says. "A flu shot is something fairly simple that is going to be cost-saving. There are so many benefits to vaccination. A flu shot costs $9 wholesale. That's a pretty good deal in my book."
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The cost of flu prevention
Protecting yourself from the flu doesn't have to be expensive.
Flu shots typically cost $10 to $15, although some private doctors' offices charge more. Medicare will cover the cost, as will most private insurers, according to the American Assn. of Health Plans.
The federally funded Vaccines for Children program covers recommended vaccines for uninsured or underinsured children. Most health maintenance organizations provide flu vaccines free to members.
The new FluMist nasal spray vaccine is expected to cost about $46 and may not be covered by health insurance.