Provided by UVA Health
Last year, influenza (flu) rates hit an all-time low that even stunned medical and health professionals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were around 2,000 confirmed positive cases of flu during the 2020 to 2021 season, as people were social distancing, washing their hands and wearing masks to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The season prior, 2019-2020, there were more than 38 million positive flu cases – and nearly 22,000 deaths – which was similar to prior seasons. Among these 38 million cases, more than 12.4 million of these cases were children under 18; 4.2 million were 0 to 4 years and 8.2 million were 5 to 17 years.
With the easing of pandemic restrictions and children returning to school in person, the flu is expected to make a comeback in 2021 and into 2022.
Dr. Bailey answers questions commonly asked by parents about why children should get their flu shot this year and every year.
Why should my child get a flu shot?
The CDC states that flu is more dangerous for children than the common cold. Children younger than 5 years old, especially those younger than 2, are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications, such as pneumonia, dehydration and, in some cases, death.
“The best way to protect yourself and your children from this potentially deadly disease is by getting a flu vaccine every year,” said Bailey. “The flu vaccine significantly decreases the risk of a child contracting and becoming ill from the virus. It also prevents the spread of flu, further protecting siblings, classmates and friends.”
Every flu season is different. Seasonal flu vaccines are developed annually and are specifically designed to protect against the strains that research determines will be most prevalent during the upcoming season.
“This is why it’s important to get a flu shot every year,” Bailey added.
Will the flu shot make my child sick or contract the flu?
“A common misconception is that the flu vaccine can give you the flu,” said Bailey. “This is simply not true.”
“The flu vaccine causes your body to develop antibodies that allow it to fight off infection if you were to contract it,” she added.
There are two ways the flu vaccine is administered. Flu vaccines given with a needle – flu shots – are made with either inactive virus or a single protein from the virus. The nasal spray vaccine contains a weakened form of the live virus, but the amount is so minimal that it cannot cause illness.
When should my child receive the vaccine?
Everyone six months and older is eligible for a flu vaccine with few exceptions. The nasal spray vaccine, when available, is approved for children two years and older without autoimmune conditions or who are not immunosuppressed.
“The flu vaccine is effective for about six months, so that’s why we recommend October as the ideal month to receive the vaccine,” said Bailey. “However, any time you can get the vaccine is a good time.”
Even after receiving the vaccine, Bailey recommends adults and children continue masking, social distancing and hand washing through the winter until flu rates subside.
Should my child receive two doses?
Some children ages six months to eight years may require two doses of a flu vaccine; a second dose is recommended for children who are receiving a flu vaccine for the first time or who are immunosuppressed. The second dose should be administered at least four weeks after the first dose.
“It’s important that if your child is to receive two doses that they get their first dose as soon as they are able, so they are fully protected for as much of flu season as possible,” Bailey noted.
Talk to your pediatrician about whether your child should receive two doses.
My child is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Do I need to time their flu vaccine around their COVID vaccine?
No. The CDC states that it is safe to receive a COVID-19 vaccination and seasonal flu vaccination around the same time.
What would you say to those who are wary of vaccination or skip years between vaccinations?
“Hands-down, the most effective way to protect yourself and your children from becoming ill from the flu is to be vaccinated every year,” states Bailey. “However, just because your child has the flu vaccine, it doesn’t mean you should let your guard down.”
The same safety measures that help limit the spread of COVID-19 also work with flu and cold – contagious illnesses that spread mainly spread through respiratory droplets:
- Wear a mask.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.
- Avoid commonly touched surfaces that could be contaminated.
- Keep children home from school if they do not feel well.
For more information about pediatric services or to make an appointment with a provider at UVA Pediatrics, visit NovantHealthUVA.org/services/pediatric-services.