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Protect your child this flu season: The importance of getting your child’s flu shot early

Protect your child this flu season: The importance of getting your child’s flu shot early

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With the flu season around the corner, now is the time for parents to schedule their child’s annual flu vaccination. Getting a flu shot this year is particularly important. Like SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 disease – influenza is a highly contagious respiratory virus. With respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) still widely circulating and COVID-19 infections in children on the rise, we need to be proactive and do everything we can to protect our children and mitigate the spread of multiple respiratory outbreaks circulating at the same time.

Currently, we are seeing an alarming number of children getting infected with COVID-19, with many of them requiring hospitalization. We’ve also seen a steady surge in RSV infections in children, which we normally don’t see until the fall and winter. Last summer, there were virtually no RSV cases because many people were still wearing their masks, practicing social distancing and limiting their exposure. Now, with the mask mandates lifted and more families socializing again – despite another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic – it’s no surprise that we are seeing an increase in respiratory infections among children.

Last year, we were concerned about the “twindemic” between COVID and influenza. Fortunately, there were hardly any flu cases last year due to mitigation efforts to slow the spread of the virus – which again, is proof that masks work. They prevent the spread of these respiratory viruses, and it has made a huge difference. While mask mandates are not being enforced as they should, I am concerned about influenza this year. The timing of influenza activity is unpredictable – it could come early or it could come late. We need to do whatever we can to limit the impact, and that starts with getting our children vaccinated against the flu.

Many schools don’t require masks; instead masking is optional for students and teachers. Because of this, we are ripe for that perfect storm if we do have a bad flu season. What we can do is, we can protect ourselves by getting the flu vaccine every year. This message is true for influenza as it is for COVID-19.

How does the flu vaccine protect my child?

The seasonal flu vaccine protects against certain strains of influenza as the strain can change from year to year. While the vaccine doesn’t necessarily prevent one from getting the flu, the vaccine has been incredibly effective in preventing serious influenza consequences, namely hospitalizations and death.

The flu vaccine stimulates the body’s immune system to build protective antibodies against the influenza virus. Once one receives the flu vaccine, it takes approximately two weeks for antibodies to develop. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone 6 months and older to get the vaccine. Immune protection provided by the vaccine decreases over time, and the viral strains may change year over year, so an annual flu shot is needed to get the best protection against the flu.

A flu vaccine can be given concomitantly with the COVID-19 vaccine for children old enough to get the COVID-19 shot. Currently, children 12 years of age and older are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Can I get the flu from the vaccine?

The injectable flu vaccine contains a killed virus, so it is not possible to get infected and “catch the flu” from the shot. Symptoms that may be associated with the flu vaccine include soreness at the injection site, generalized achiness and low-grade fever following the injection, which are due to your body’s immune reaction to the vaccine. While these symptoms may be unpleasant, these side effects actually indicate that your immune system has been primed to fight off the influenza virus should you be exposed to the virus.

Is the flu vaccine safe?

Flu vaccines have a great safety track record. They have been in use for more than 50 years. During this time, numerous studies have been conducted that show flu vaccines are safe. Their safety is closely monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration.

The various ingredients found in flu shots are not harmful. They work together to ensure that the vaccine is safe and effective. The ingredients in the influenza vaccine are there to stabilize the components of the flu vaccine and prevent bacterial contamination. They are present in very small amounts, usually less than what we are exposed to every day in the environment or in foods.

Why do I need a flu vaccine every year?

There are multiple strains of influenza virus, and typically different strains will predominate from one year to the next. Additionally, even the same strain of virus can change. Since our immune systems will often not recognize a different or changed strain, it is important to get the annual flu shot for more protection.

Each year, infectious disease experts predict which strains of influenza are likely to predominate, and that information is used as a guide for which strains to include in that coming year’s vaccine. The flu vaccines incorporate two A and two B strains, so there are four different strains of flu in each year’s vaccine.

If you skip a flu vaccine, you will have less or possibly no protection from the flu that year. For younger children especially – it’s that repetitive exposure year after year to a lot of these infections that helps the immune system get a better response.

While influenza carries a higher risk for young children as well as the elderly, everyone is at risk of suffering severe illness from the flu. One of the most important things we can do as parents to protect our children from the flu is to get an annual flu vaccine for ourselves as well as for our children.

How can I schedule my child’s flu vaccination?

Click here to schedule an appointment with your pediatrician for your child’s flu vaccination. Click here for a list of routine immunizations to protect your children from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Getting your flu vaccine is the first and most important step you and your child can take to prevent transmission of the flu and protect yourself and others – and it’s even more critical this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing and the recent influx in COVID-19 and RSV infections in children.