Flu Vaccination Tips

The Truth About The Influenza Vaccine

News media are reporting today that a mother blames the influenza vaccine for her son’s death.   The death of a child is one of the most traumatic events a parent can experience, and this mother is experiencing tremendous grief.   The fact is we don’t know what caused that child to die. To my knowledge, there has been no medical information shared to say the vaccine did nor did not cause the son’s death.

Here’s what I do know: Influenza can and does kill children in the United States every year (this includes healthy children).    As an infectious diseases doctor, I know the risks and benefits of vaccines.    My children and I receive the influenza vaccine because I firmly believe the benefits outweigh the risks.   Parents have a right to know the risks and benefits, and there is a federal law that a vaccine information sheet must be given before administering vaccines.  This includes risks and benefits. I also know you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. The risk of a flu shot causing serious harm or death is extremely small. However, a vaccine, like any medicine, may rarely cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. Almost all people who get influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it. Life-threatening allergic reactions are also very rare. I also know there is a small possibility that the influenza vaccine could be associated with Guillain-Barré syndrome, no more than 1 or 2 cases per million people vaccinated. This is much lower than the risk of severe complications from flu, which can be prevented by flu vaccine.

As with any vaccine please work with your doctor to understand the benefits and risks. The bottom line here:  Seasonal flu is a serious disease that causes illness, hospitalizations, and deaths every year in the United States. Be informed.

Dennis Cunningham, MD
Dennis J. Cunningham, MD, is a member of the Section of Infectious Diseases at Nationwide Children's Hospital and an Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
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