NEW YORK — The flu shot is safe for most kids with egg allergies, according to a new report in Pediatrics released April 5.
Because all flu vaccine is made in chicken eggs, there are concerns about giving the flu shot to children with egg allergies. About one in 60 U.S. children has such allergies, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
But today's influenza vaccines contain only miniscule amounts of egg protein, noted one of the new study's authors, Dr. Lynda Schneider of Children's Hospital in Boston. "You're talking about a very small amount, I'd say on the order of a millionth of an egg, in the current vaccines."
Typically, doctors use a skin test to tell whether children with egg allergies are allergic to the flu vaccine.
However, Schneider said she and her colleagues had found the test wasn't very helpful in gauging a child's risk of having a severe reaction, so they stopped doing it. Instead, they give children allergic to eggs a tenth of the vaccine, and then the remainder if he or she does not have a severe reaction.
In the current study, Schneider and her team report on 171 children who had received the flu vaccine in their practice, before and after the skin test was dropped.
Among the 56 children who had a skin test before vaccination, 95 percent tolerated the vaccine with no severe reaction, as did 97 percent of the children who didn't have the skin test beforehand. A few patients had mild reactions such as itchiness, hives or wheezing, but none of the reactions required treatment with epinephrine, which people with allergies often carry in an autoinjector known as an EpiPen.
The researchers did not include any children in the study who'd suffered recent serious allergic reactions to eggs, such as anaphylaxis, Schneider noted. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that develops quickly, within seconds or minutes of exposure, causing potentially life-threatening symptoms like difficulty breathing.
Parents of children with egg allergies should know that their children could receive the vaccine, the researcher said, and should discuss it with their physicians. While more research is needed to figure out the best way to go about giving the shot to kids with egg allergies, she added, the new findings suggest "that you can maybe skip the testing."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everyone between 6 months and 18 years old get the flu shot. This protection can be particularly important for kids with asthma, who are at higher risk of flu complications; these children are also often allergic to eggs, Schneider noted.
Because it's more complicated for them to get flu shots, Schneider told Reuters, egg-allergic children are probably less likely than non-allergic youngsters to be immunized. "We hope that by making things easier we can get more of those egg-allergic kids immunized."