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Oct. 17, 2006, 11:23 AM

Delays in the shipment of flu vaccine for children may leave them open to getting the flu if the season starts early. Doctors at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children‘s Hospital at Vanderbilt say parents should be cautious until the vaccine is available and has a chance to take effect.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said this week that there will be a delay in obtaining flu shots for children 6 months through age 3 until at least November. Sanofi pasteur, the sole manufacturer of an injectable flu vaccine (FluZone) approved for children 3 and younger, announced a shipment delay. Plenty of FluZone will be available, but pediatricians won‘t receive most of their FluZone supply until November and December.

“The sooner you get vaccinated, the sooner you are protected against the flu,” said Paul Hain, M.D., a pediatrician at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children‘s Hospital at Vanderbilt. “However, as the flu often doesn‘t peak until January, it is never too late to get vaccinated if you weren‘t able to do so early.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all children 6 months to age 5 receive the flu vaccine. Those receiving it the first time need two doses, four weeks apart, and it can take two weeks for the full dose of the flu vaccine to be fully effective. With that in mind, Hain says parents should be practicing caution and good hygiene to prevent children from being exposed to the flu virus.

Here are five simple steps for prevention of the flu and other viruses:

1) Wash your hands. Sing the happy birthday song twice. The more you wash, the better your chances of keeping germs away.

2) Cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze. Germs can be propelled quite a distance.

3) Use hand helpers — tissues and sanitizers can keep germs off your hands. The most common route of infection: germs on hands enter the body when someone touches or rubs their eyes or face.

4) Keep your germs home; if you are sick, stay home.

5) Find your flu shot now. Call your pediatrician or health department now to make an appointment for vaccination. Many offices are already filling up their appointment lists for November and early December vaccinations.

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