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On Call: Flu-Shot Update

Q. I've read that flu shots are recommended for 6- to 23-month-olds. Don't my older kids need protection, too?

A. Ideally, everyone should be protected from the flu. It can cause complications such as pneumonia, sinusitis, and ear infections, and it's especially dangerous for those under 2, kids who have chronic health problems like asthma, the elderly, and pregnant women. That said, even healthy children can get quite sick, so it's perfectly understandable that you'd want all your kids to get flu shots.

The American Academy of Pediatrics would prefer that everyone get them, too  -- but unfortunately there simply isn't enough vaccine to go around, and healthy kids over 2 aren't first priority. However, let your pediatrician know that you're interested in immunizing your children so he can contact you if doses become available. If you have a baby who's under 6 months, your older kids might qualify for the vaccine in order to prevent them from passing the flu on to her.

Theoretically, there shouldn't be any extra after all the high-priority groups are vaccinated, but each year many of those people don't get their shots, so there are often leftovers. If your doctor doesn't end up with any, keep in mind that if your kids are 5 and up, they're eligible for FluMist, a vaccine that's given as a nasal spray.

To help decrease your kids' chances of catching the flu this winter:

  • Wash hands frequently with soap (or use alcohol-based antibacterial gels).
  • Keep your kids out of close contact with obviously sick people (though that's not fail-safe because the flu can be spread before a person actually feels sick or has symptoms).
  • Discourage them from rubbing their mouths, eyes, or noses, to keep germs out.
  • Keep plenty of tissues around to discourage wiping noses on sleeves and exposed skin.
  • Make sure your kids  -- and their friends  -- have their own cup and napkin, and remember to wipe down toys after playdates.