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Flu Fighters: It's Vaccination Time for Children

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Sorry, kids.

The doctor has one more reason to needle you and your arm --- the flu.

For the first time, free influenza vaccinations for low-income children are widely available throughout the state at pediatricians' offices and county health clinics.

Uninsured children or those enrolled in the government health programs PeachCare for Kids and Medicaid are eligible for the shots. The shots also are available to children using private pediatricians.

All healthy children ages 6 months to 23 months should get a flu shot, public health officials say. From ages 2 to 18, the vaccine is recommended yearly for children considered at high risk for the flu because of asthma, heart disease, diabetes, sickle cell disease and other chronic medical conditions.

"This is the first year for Georgia to have funding to give flu vaccines to children," said Michelle Conner, vaccine manager for the Division of Public Health's immunization program. "But many parents don't know of the importance of getting their children the shots. And the season is readily upon us."

Flu shots are part of the federally funded Vaccines for Children program, which provides childhood inoculations for uninsured children, Native American children and those children on Medicaid.

Adults also should be lining up for their annual flu shot now. The best months for inoculation are October and November, experts say, although it's still possible to be vaccinated in early spring.

Unlike in past years, there's no shortage of the vaccine, state health officials say. People age 50 and older, nursing home residents, people with suppressed immunity or chronic disease and women in the second or third trimester of pregnancy are advised to get an annual flu shot.

Many health experts believe that flu epidemics begin and spread to adults from younger children. It also can turn life-threatening, especially among children and the elderly.

"It can be quite devastating," said Juliette Cooper, director of nursing at Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness. "Because we are responsible for all vaccinations at all day care centers in Fulton County, public or private, we know how vital flu shots are."

Every year, more than 114,000 Americans are hospitalized for the flu; 36,000 die from its complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2001, 1,504 Georgians of all ages died of flu and pneumonia.

Dr. Norman Edelman, scientific consultant for the American Lung Association, said only 10 percent of children with asthma and 39 percent of adults with asthma get an annual flu shot. "People with asthma are most at risk for serious complications," he said. "In order to protect themselves and those around them, it is necessary that they receive a flu vaccination."

Side effects usually are mild and may include soreness, redness or swelling at the site of the inoculation, and aches and fever. The side effects usually last for only a day or two, public health officials say.

No flu cases have yet been reported in Georgia this season.

Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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