Last year’s flu season didn’t hit quite as hard as previous years, believed in part because of social distancing, masks and increased handwashing. But with Michigan on the cusp of another flu season, parents want to know what this year might look like.
What doctors do know is that with the return to in-person school and more social gatherings, parents need to not only protect their kids from COVID, but also influenza. Dr. Leonard Pollack, a pediatrician with Henry Ford Health System, says that the expectation is that this flu season will be worse than last year’s as things return more to normal.
In the 2019-2020 flu season, 199 kids died, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
“The flu vaccine is going to be very, very important this year for everybody,” he says. “If your kid comes down with the flu, it’s going to look an awful lot like COVID and it’s going to mean then your kid is going to be kept out of school for a lot longer than they normally would for the flu.”
In addition, if COVID cases increase this fall and winter, “we don’t need the burden on the health care system of having a lot of flu and a lot of COVID at the same time.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics, which says kids are particularly hit with getting and spreading the flu, recently released its flu recommendations, urging that all kids 6 months and older get their flu shots this year.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to remember that influenza is also a highly contagious respiratory virus that can cause severe illness and even death in children,” says Flor Munoz, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement and technical report, developed by the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases, in a news release. “The flu vaccine is safe, effective and can be given alongside other routine immunizations and the COVID-19 vaccine.”
This year’s recommendations say kids 6 months through 8 years old receiving the flu shot for the first time, who have had one dose ever before July 1 or whose vaccination status is unknown, should be offered a shot as soon as it becomes available and should receive two doses four weeks apart by the end of October.
Kids who only need one dose should also receive their shots before the end of October, it says.
Depending on their age and health, they can either receive a shot or nasal spray. Pregnant women should get a shot any time during their pregnancy to protect themselves and their baby, and women who had not received a shot while pregnant should receive one before leaving the hospital after giving birth, AAP says.
AAP notes that kids with acute, moderate or severe COVID should wait for their flu shots until they have recovered, but that kids with mild illness can get their shot. Depending on their age
“This year it will be especially important to keep our children healthy, as we’ve seen hospital beds and emergency services fill beyond capacity in communities where transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses remains high,” Dr. Munoz says in the release. “This means catching up on all immunizations, including the flu vaccine, and making sure children wash hands frequently, wear masks in school and during indoor group activities, and maintain physical distance from others.”
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