Influenza Vaccination: The Danger is Not Getting It
Dec 10, 2010

By Carol J. Baker, MD
Every flu season is different and unpredictable, but each year influenza causes children to get sick, and can lead to hospitalizations and even deaths.
While influenza can be serious, vaccination is safe. Millions of children have received the flu vaccine without serious effects other than a day or two of a low grade fever, decreased activity, or discomfort at the injection site, for those who receive the injected vaccine, or a runny nose, for those who receive the nasal spray.
Yet, despite this body of evidence many people continue to have questions about the safety of influenza vaccines. The National Foundation for Infectious Disease conducted research this year that found that nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of mothers surveyed said that reassurance that the vaccine is safe and carefully tested would make them more interested in vaccinating their children this year.
Here are the facts. Each year’s influenza vaccine meets rigorous safety standards, and is closely monitored with long-established systems. Every batch is carefully tested before release before it is shipped.
Creating the Flu Vaccine
The flu vaccine is formulated each year to provide the best possible match between the vaccine and influenza virus strains expected to be circulating during the upcoming season. Monitoring circulating influenza strains, choosing which ones will be part of the annual vaccine and then producing the vaccine is a year-round process.
Global influenza virus surveillance is done by a network of World Health Organization (WHO) laboratories in countries around the world. Information from the surveillance system is used to make recommendations about which strains of influenza virus are likely to circulate in the coming year. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for regulating vaccine production and makes the decision about which strains to include in the vaccine for the U.S. market; typically, three influenza virus strains are included in the vaccine each year: two strains of influenza A and one of influenza B.
Monitoring Vaccine Safety
The FDA must approve each manufacturer’s formulation of the influenza vaccine. FDA also tests vaccines multiple times during the production process to confirm potency and purity. The FDA, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also monitors vaccines continually for safety, especially in children, through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).  You can learn more about the VAERS system here or click here for answers to some common questions about influenza vaccine safety.
The production and safety monitoring systems are not new; the influenza vaccine (and the virus itself) has been around for a long time – the first clinical trials began in 1942 to show vaccine effectiveness. The timeline below highlights some of the major milestones.
NFID Influenza Timeline 10-7-10
Vaccination offers the best means of flu protection and helps control influenza epidemics that were devastating to previous generations.
I urge you to get your children vaccinated to help keep your entire family and community healthy and at work and school this influenza season.
Carol J. Baker, MD is Professor of Pediatrics, Molecular Virology and Microbiology, Baylor College of Medicine, Past President, NFID, Chair, NFID’s Childhood Influenza Immunization Coalition.


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