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Asthma & the flu vaccine

It's no secret that there are some who favor getting the flu shot yearly, and those  who do not favor getting the flu shot yearly. 

For years, I have fallen in the latter of the two and have never gotten a flu shot. Over the years I've come across some very good points on both sides. But it wasn't until our son was hospitalized in ICU for RSV complications at almost 3 years of age, and then shortly after diagnosed with asthma, that I began even considering the flu vaccine at the urging of his PCP (this was very early on, before we found his pulmonologist). 

For those parents out there whose children suffer with asthma, I ask you to kindly share your thoughts with me regarding the flu vaccine, and any experiences you've had with it as it relates to our journey in managing our kids asthma. 

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  • Kathy P

    There are several blog posts on here about the reasons why everyone with asthma, but especially kids, should get a flu shot - 

    What is your biggest concern about getting it for him? Here is another blog that debunks some common myths - 

  • K8sMom2002

    I can understand why people could be concerned about the flu vaccine … but before my mom, my DD and I all started getting the flu shots, we ALL had the flu at least once, and some of us multiple times. After the flu shot? Not once.

    What's more, my sister wound up taking care of my mom by herself for almost six weeks because my DD got the flu and gave it to us … and my mom's pulmo and our primary doc said for us NOT to go around my mom until all coughing was gone. So I started getting flu shot to help be there to take care of the people I loved.

    Flu can be really, really bad for people with asthma, and so can pneumonia. People who've never had the flu before — even without asthma — tend to think of it as just a bad cold … but it's not. It's far, far worse.  People with asthma are at more risk for complications with the flu — complications like having to be put on a ventilator. 

    That means the ICU, where, in addition to the stress and agony and risk your family is already going through, the chances of a are higher.

    Healthcare-associated infections are the most common complications affecting hospitalized patients []. Intensive care unit (ICU)-acquired infections represent the majority of these infections []. In a recent multicenter study conducted in 71 adult ICUs [], 7.4% of the 9,493 included patients had an ICU-acquired infection. ICU-acquired pneumonia (47%) and ICU-acquired bloodstream infection (37%) were the most frequently reported infections.

    I've seen several of my family have healthcare acquired infections, despite the very best efforts of hospital staff at ICUs. It makes a bad situation even worse. 

    So, to me, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 

    Here are a couple of links that may help you as you talk this over with your doctor — and I'm so glad you are talking it over with your doc! 

      And thank you for this post! Because my DD had surgery at about the time we usually get our flu shots, our doctors advised us to wait. We've gotten busy, and haven't gotten any of our flu shots … I need to call TODAY and schedule them! 

    • CAPuttPutt

      @Kathy P Honestly, I've never been a fan of the flu vaccine for a few reasons. I've seen several close relatives have allergic reactions to it (one example: arm  in which injection was given swelling, turning red – an area about the size of a grapefruit – and itching severely for over a week). Plus, I'm also not a fan of big pharma….the last cure we had for something was when the Polio vaccine was created by Jonas Salk, who didn't profit from his vaccine at all (he didn't patented it).

      So my reluctance comes from many directions.  But I am keeping an open mind about the vaccine since we are trying to do as much as we can to keep our youngest from ending up back in ICU.

    • Megan Roberts

      Good discussion question @CAPuttPutt.  Flu is much more dangerous for kids (and adults) with asthma. That's why the CDC recommends everyone over 6 months of age with asthma should get a flu shot.  This year they also recommend the shot as opposed to the nasal spray, because of concerns that the nasal spray was less effective in the previous flu season.  

      Though people with asthma are not more likely to get the flu, influenza (flu) infection can be more serious for people with asthma, even if their asthma is mild or their symptoms are well-controlled by medication. This is because people with asthma have swollen and sensitive airways, and influenza can cause further inflammation of the airways and lungs. Influenza infection in the lungs can trigger asthma attacks and a worsening of asthma symptoms. It also can lead to pneumonia and other acute respiratory diseases. In fact, adults and children with asthma are more likely to develop pneumonia after getting sick with the flu than people who do not have asthma. 

      The CDC also notes that asthma is the most common condition among children hospitalized with the flu.  You can check out more information from the

      I know I have learned for my own body and respiratory system that flu and other less severe respiratory symptoms are highly likely to lead very quickly to respiratory complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia, probably as a result of asthma.  To the extent that I really avoid sick people and situations with sick people in them, wash my hands constantly, and lysol wipe shared spaces frequently.  So, it's not a surprise I always get the shot! If you get the shot, you can also better protect your kiddo.  

      I'm also wondering what your concerns are — and what other parents' concerns may be– regarding flu shot.  Are you concerned about getting it for yourself, your child, or both?

    • CAPuttPutt

      @K8sMom2002 Thank you, very much! 

      Yes, I'm trying to keep an open mind on this topic since I've gone so long not liking the flu vaccine. But in an effort to keep our youngest healthy and not end up in ICU again, we're doing as much research as possible. He's been sick so much already this school year (15 days missed so far), until it's been difficult to really focus on thinking about and researching the vaccine, despite the need.

      In fact, we're home again today. When this cold front began pushing through, on the second day of wind and rain (and us trying to stay out of it), he began coughing. And it's progressed slowly, until last night when it woke him and us up for a lot of the night. So today we're doing our normal nebulizer every 4 hours, and he's laying around watching TV, playing on starfall.com, etc. (anything to keep him from running around).

    • CAPuttPutt

      @Megan Roberts Hi Megan! 

      Our concern over the years has been multifaceted……how effective is it, really? How safe is it? Is is safe for people who are highly allergic to so many medications? I myself am allergic to over 14 different pharmaceutical medicines. And if we only get our son with asthma vaccinated, does it do any good if we get the flu? Should we get the vaccine too?

      We are certainly more open to the vaccine than we were before our son had so many respiratory issues. We're hoping that by doing our research, we'll feel completely comfortable when we get him the vaccine. After ICU stays for RSV and having pneumonia twice last year, it's something that I think we need to do…I'm just scared a little. 

      Surprisingly though, not one of his doctors this year have even mentioned to us about getting the vaccine. They initially mentioned it when he was diagnosed but nothing since. I thought that was odd.

      I am like you, I keep disinfecting wipes on the kitchen counter and wipe them down daily, sometimes multiple times. I also lysol couches, door knobs, toilet seats and handles, etc I keep wipes in my purse and truck, and antibacterial pocket-bac packs on me. 

    • Megan Roberts

      Yes it's a frequent source of teasing in my world but I am not afraid to look ridiculous if it saves me and my loved ones weeks of sickness and months of recovery! The questions at the top of your post, especially the question regarding your multiple medication allergies, sound like very valid questions for your PCP. 

      As for the effectiveness of the vaccine, that varies by type of virus and year, but the vaccine reduces the risk of illness by 40-60% for the overall population during flu season.  For the individual, the vaccine last year was around 39% effective against all flu viruses (lower for some, higher for others), and that rate is expected to be about the same this year.  (More information on the same CDC page hyperlinked above).  

      So, your son MAY be protected if only he gets the vaccine and you get the flu, but he may not be.  A lot to consider!

    • Megan Roberts

      Also, kudos for keeping an open mind about things to evaluate all the info to make the best decision for everyone in your family!  

    • K8sMom2002

      Yes, absolutely! I'm so glad to hear that you are open-minded. I can understand your hesitation … sounds a lot like my mom's. She was definitely NOT a person who trusted vaccines — she even fibbed on my school vaccination records back before they required them from the state. As an adult going through the adoption process for my DD, I literally had to have my immune responses checked one by one to see which vaccines I'd had, and which I hadn't. I had missed SEVERAL shots that most kids get as routine!

      So the fact that she came around and never missed a flu shot ought to tell you something. And she really benefited from that.

      Even , but still there are risks and benefits to consider with any medical treatment. And there are .

      Can you talk it over with your pediatrician or the doctor who follows your son's asthma? 

      I try to remember a shortcut a friend gave to help me talk about various treatments – BRAND:

      B – Benefits

      R – Risks

      A – Alternatives

      N – What about doing NOTHING?

      D – Decision

      For me, the benefits of getting the flu vaccine are pretty clear. :

      Flu vaccine can prevent severe, life-threatening illness in children, for example:

      • A 2014 study showed that flu vaccine reduced children’s risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admission by 74% during flu seasons from 2010-2012.
      • In 2017, a study in the journal  was the first of its kind to show that flu vaccination also significantly reduced a child’s risk of dying from the flu. The study, which looked at data from four flu seasons between 2010 and 2014, found that flu vaccination reduced the risk of flu-associated death by half (51 percent) among children with underlying high-risk medical conditions and by nearly two-thirds (65 percent) among healthy children.

      I am really surprised that your doctors haven't followed up — it's one of the first questions that our hem/onc AND our allergist ask us about our DD. 

      But that doesn't mean you can't bring it up with your doctors – I think you should! In the end, you will figure out exactly what is the best course of action for your family and your son … I know that, based on the way you've approached this and that you sound like you are open to good scientific research. 

      And I agree with Megan — just because you get the flu shot, it doesn't mean that you shouldn't be extra careful with germs. The flu vaccine just covers the flu, after all.

      There are other germs out there that can cause issues as well – para-influenza, for instance, or pneumococcal bacteria. For para-influenza, there is no vaccine; for , there is. 

    • Kathy P

      Totally understand CAPuttPutt – I'm one of those who has had a non insignificant reaction from a flu shot. It was 20 years ago – I had asthma and an infant, so went with the recommendation. My arm swelled up enough that the allergist has recommended that I not get it again. But I also know that they have changed the way they culture and prepare the serum in those 20 years. The allergist leaves it up to me on whether I want to try it again.

      In those 20 years, our family has gotten the flu twice – just the kids and I since dh rarely gets sick. Both kids also have asthma. The first time, my dd wound up with pneumonia. We managed to keep her out of the hospital, but it was pretty bad. The second time was last year – just ds and I since dd was across the country at school. But ds wound up with a sinus infection and a PANS flare and missed 2 weeks of school. And that was after starting Tamiflu within the onset window.

      I've had the conversation with our doc/allergist about the risk vs benefit vs options. So, we choose not to get the flu shot. But at the slightest inkling, we are in the office getting a swab w/ Tamiflu on standby. We have our sick plans that we start at the first sign of any URI (ds has been on pred 2x already this fall to ward off sinus infections). 

      I'd say try to take the pharma/politics out of the equation if you can. Have the discussion about it again with his doc now that you've done you research and see where you are. It's not as easy a decision for some as it is for others. But kudos for being open minded and weighing all the facts.

    • CAPuttPutt

      @Kathy P Thank you! Thank you! It's comforting to hear that this struggle to make such a decision is one that you've gone through as well. It is very tough. 

      Minus the big pharma aspect, my main concerns are the reactions that I've seen several have. Our youngest son isn't as allergic to medications as I am, but if only he gets the vaccine and I or others in our house happen to get the flu, then we may in turn make him sick. And that would defeat the purpose all together. 

      @K8sMom2002 @Megan Roberts I'm going to have my husband read all of these responses Then I think we are going to literally make a written list…..Pros vs Cons. Then my husband and I can make a decision, one that we can approach the pulmonologist or PCP with. I will say, I feel better after hearing from everyone.

    • K8sMom2002

      I'm so glad that we could help! And there's something to be said for "herd immunity." Some kids are unable to have any vaccinations due to health issues. So in that case it's doubly important for everyone who CAN have vaccinations to have them. Ditto for other folks who can't have vaccinations. 

      I know you guys will come up with the best answer for YOU. Please keep us posted — and whichever way you decide, we are so glad that you are here and feeling supported. 

      Another thing … can you reach out to your son's teachers, friends and family and really state the importance of how he needs to avoid getting exposed to an upper respiratory infection of any sort? And ask that they give you a heads-up if anyone is sick?

      I feel so strongly about this that I have called people that I've sat beside at public events and let them know that I came down with something after the event … just to let them know that I was an unwitting Typhoid Mary and make sure they knew to watch out for symptoms of their own.

    • CAPuttPutt

      @K8sMom2002 I've mentioned this to his teachers, but I haven't emphasized it enough I guess. I sure will tomorrow if we're able to go back to school (we're still home today, had a rough night coughing – croup).

      Which school is another can of worms.  We're seriously considering virtual school for his KG year. It's not even Christmas and we've missed 17 days already The virtual school allows an option for him to do either full time virtual or to do most online and then go to school for certain subjects (e.g. arts, science, etc) so that he would still have the interaction with his friends and classmates. I know that one of the other moms on here has her child in virtual school and sings its praises. We haven't decided 100% yet, but we are looking into all of the details.

    • Jen

      I hope he's feeling better soon @CAPuttPutt.

      @Shea started virtual school with her son.

    • Kathy P

      Our youngest son isn't as allergic to medications as I am, but if only he gets the vaccine and I or others in our house happen to get the flu, then we may in turn make him sick. And that would defeat thepurpose all together. 

      Actually, it should be the opposite. If he's vaccinated and someone else in the family gets sick, he should be protected (providing it's a strain that was in this year's fly shot). Conversely, if he's exposed at school, he should be protected and not bring it home to you. That's how "herd immunity" works. Something can't spread as rampantly and it protects those who can't be immunized. 

    • K8sMom2002

      Oh, man, Caputtputt! That's a lot of school to miss! 

      There are pros and cons of both homeschooling and "public or private" schooling. I think @Anne P has also homeschooled her kids (and two are in very good colleges now!) and @Shea is just beginning the homeschool journey now. 

      So it can DEFINITELY be a great option for you. 

      If you choose public school, I would make sure you have a good robust 504 plan to help your kiddo succeed. If at all possible, make sure that in that 504 plan is something that his absences don't penalize him, and that you are notified in case of another child's illness (not by name, perhaps, due to privacy concerns, but just a text message — "Hey, we're seeing kids out with a cold/flu/bug")

      AAFA's resource on  can help you with that.

      Pros of homeschooling:

      • your kiddo can do it any time, and you're not tied to a particular schedule.
      • you avoid alot of the germs that spread so easily from kid to kid in an early elementary setting
      • you control the curriculum and pace to a large degree — you can challenge your kiddo more if he needs challenging, and take time for remediation if he needs remediation.

      Cons of homeschooling:

      • Teaching is HARD work, and teaching your own kiddo? Even harder!
      • It requires discipline … time management, routines, studying ahead to create good lessons, learning the material yourself.
      • It makes you have to wear the "teacher" hat when sometimes you would rather just wear your "mom" hat.
      • Expense: books and curriculum cost money, sometimes serious money. There are all sorts of great free resources out there, but you will still need a good curriculum that will prepare your kiddo for the future.

      Notice I don't say anything about "socialization." Most every homeschool kiddo I've met is well-mannered, mature, and gets along with others, and it has nothing to do with the "school" environment … it has to do with the home environment. I truly believe these kids would have been the same if they'd gone to public school. 

      I haven't homeschooled my child per se … she's always gone to public school. But I am an ex-teacher, and there have been times when I've had to re-teach lessons/classes because I was afraid she wasn't properly prepared or she just didn't seem to "get" what had been taught. I'm not sure if it was the class, the curriculum or my kid … but she needed extra help, and I was glad that I was a trained teacher and knew how to give it.

      I think you're smart to be considering all the ways you can be prepared!

    • CAPuttPutt

      @K8sMom2002 Yes, it's a lot! Right now it doesn't worry me since he's fairly far ahead of where he's "supposed to be" (he's in PreK right now), and I do not want that to change. He enjoys a good deal of success right now, and because of this he loves school and is eager to learn. 

      My brother and his wife have home-schooled their two boys for years now. The curriculum and supplies they use are expensive, but it allows them flexibility which is what they love the most. Both boys are thriving with it but their mom is really good at teaching and sticking to a consistent schedule.

      The program we're looking at is FLVS (Florida Virtual School). It's a tuition free online public school that allows you to do everything online (I actually work with several teachers at the school that are leaving our school and going to FLVS). They do offer an option where you can do some of the stuff on campus if you so wish. The lessons are taught by accredited teachers with full support available for questions and such.

      I actually talked to his school about a 504 plan a month or so ago; they looked at like I had 3 heads. Needless to say they weren't supportive in looking at or even discussing trying to get him a 504 for his KG year (I like to be proactive and ahead of the game, not reactive).

    • K8sMom2002
      CAPuttPutt posted:

      @K8sMom2002I actually talked to his school about a 504 plan a month or so ago; they looked at like I had 3 heads. Needless to say they weren't supportive in looking at or even discussing trying to get him a 504 for his KG year (I like to be proactive and ahead of the game, not reactive).

      Way to go on being proactive! But ugh that they looked at you like you had three heads …  

      How high have you gone up the school ladder? There's usually a person at the central office/board level who handles disability requests. 

      And it sounds like you have just the right expectations going into homeschooling … plus, you have family who have done it successfully. I've heard good things about FLVS … who knows? Virtual school may be the wave of the future!

    • CAPuttPutt

      @K8sMom2002 Actually, none of that will be necessary now. My husband and I made the decision today that our son isn't going back to Pre-K after the Christmas holidays, and I will be quitting my job to stay at home and care for him. From then until we enroll him in virtual school, which starts in August, I will work with him here at home. 

      We are fortunate in the fact that we do not need my income (not that I made much to begin with – it was equivalent to a part time job). I worked my job at the school because I liked it, so our son could go to school in a certain district (we lived just over the dividing lines), and so I could get out and be around adults.

      I spoke with his pulmonologist today about the decision to enroll him in FLVS, and she thought it was a good idea for us. Having him home keeps him from being exposed to so many viruses and germs, which generally triggers his asthma to flare up significantly. We are still at home today, which makes day 18 of being absent, all but one of which have been due to asthma & complications. Also after speaking with the doctor, he is now on steroids trying to prevent this from getting any worse. 

    • Megan Roberts

      It sounds like you've done your homework about this and with the amount of school he's had to miss, you'd likely be able to squeeze in more time for lessons at this rate at home anyway. Best of luck to you in your new mom-teacher position! I have family and friends that home school as well and whew, you have my respect for sure! There has been somewhat recent discussion in the KFA forums about homeschooling… if you're looking for other homeschooling parents of kids with asthma/allergies to connect with you may want to post over there.