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Parents wary of flu shots

Social media and online groups this autumn have seen extensive debate about the possible risks to children of flu vaccinations. A number of past cases of vaccine-triggered narcolepsy are of special concern. Experts say that a good deal of misinformation has appeared in online discussions.

Henkilö vetää rokotetta ruiskuun.
Image: Yle

Health officials are recommending seasonal flu vaccinations, especially for high-risk groups.

The National Institute for Health and Welfare, THL, recommends these vaccinations to professionals in the health and social sectors, pregnant women, people aged 65 and over, children aged 6–35 months, medical risk groups, and new conscripts. These groups are eligible for influenza vaccine free of charge.

However, the parents of many children are wary of the shots. A swine flu vaccine called Pandemrix used in 2009-10 was later linked to cases of childhood narcolepsy. Today, some parents would rather risk their children getting a bout of flu than face the fear of such a debilitating condition. The number of small children brought to doctors and clinics for a flu shot has fallen in the capital region.

"This decline in the total number getting vaccinated stems from publicity of cases of narcolepsy and debate on the issue. So far it is not statistically significant. Parents are more wary than in the past. They want to know the reasons to vaccinate, and to think over the risks of either option," says Anna Cantell-Forsbom, acting director of family services in the city of Vantaa.

In Espoo, in contrast, the number of children being vaccinated remains high.

"People are asking if it's worthwhile getting a flu shot and what the side effects possibly could be. These are the same questions as before. The vaccinations are not being questioned any more than usual," reports Heidi Lånström-Karhapää of Espoo's children's clinic services.

The aim is to begin vaccinations at public children's clinics next month. Vaccinations are given free of charge to all children under the age of 3.

Facts, not rumours

The seasonal influenza vaccinations programme is considered important because without the shots, THL estimates that at least one in ten will fall ill with influenza.

THL recommends that the two vaccines being used in the national vaccination programme, Vaxigrip and Fluarix, be given to different age groups. Vaxigrip is recommended to people aged under 65 and Fluarix to people aged 65 and over.

The seasonal epidemic usually peaks at the turn of the year, and it is being recommended to get vaccinated at least two weeks before exposure to the virus.

Staff at public healthcare centres is able to give accurate information to parents who may have concerns about the shot.

"Healthcare nurses do not try to convince parents of anything. But, they are competent to comment on the basis of the information available from the Institute for Health and Welfare. We give the facts," says Lånström-Karhapää. 

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