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The question

Should I give my child the flu shot?

The answer

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Flu shots at this time of the year are recommended by the Canadian Paediatric Society for all children older than 6 months. Still, some children are at greater risk of the flu. Children with asthma, heart conditions, cystic fibrosis, and renal disease need to be protected by immunization.

Every year, a few months before the flu season strikes, experts meet to decide which strains of flu should be included in these shots. The World Health Organization is involved in these decisions, aiming to predict as accurately as possible which strains to vaccinate against. The three strains covered by this year's vaccine are: A/California7/2009 (H1N1), A/Perth/16/2009(H3N2) and B/Brisbane/60/2008.

Also new this year: For the first time, Canadian parents can choose the Flumist vaccine. In use in the United States since 2003, this vaccine is delivered by a spray into the nose - one spray of 0.1ml into each nostril - rather than by a needle. The vaccine is also preservative-free and safe for people with latex allergies. (Both needle and nasal flu vaccines should not be administered to children who are highly allergic to eggs, because the vaccines are grown in chick embryos.) It is licensed for use in children 2 years and older.

After flu season is over, experts will look into the rear-view mirror and give us numbers - of children who died, children who ended up in hospital and other Canadians who elected not to get the vaccine. The exact numbers vary each season, but over the years the bottom line has stayed the same: Despite much education a huge portion of the population does not get the shot. Perhaps a vaccine that does not involve a needle will finally lead to higher immunization numbers.

Send pediatrician Peter Nieman your questions at pediatrician@globeandmail.com. He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Peter Nieman.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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