Just like clockwork, flu season is expected to arrive right on time and it’s on another collision course with COVID-19 and the latest wave of the delta variant. This is why the medical community is gearing up to get ahead of this year’s flu viruses by offering very soon if not already. And let’s not forget to mention they’ve already been dealing with a surge in other respiratory illnesses like RSV.
While we are urging our kiddos under 12 who aren’t quite yet eligible for the COVID vaccine, to take extra precautions like wearing face coverings, social distancing and frequently washing hands, there are still many unknowns, which is why doctors are encouraging people to get the flu vaccine once it’s available in their community.
We turned to Dr. Christina Canody, BayCare Pediatric Service Line Medical Director to learn more about the importance of immunization right now.
Why is it so important for families to get the flu vaccine this year?
Dr Canody: This year, the administration of the flu vaccine has two really important implications. The first one is that it’s always important to get the flu vaccine because we still have deaths each year attributed to influenza. Despite having a vaccine for prevention and medications for treatment of the illness, on average 200 children and 25,000 adults in the United States die from influenza each year. So, it’s something that’s real and something we are presented with every year. Vaccines directly reduce the risk of hospitalization or death from the flu.
The second reason is at this point in time, because with the pandemic-COVID-19 infections, we don’t have a lot of information of how the viruses will behave if you were infected with them at the same time. It is not unusual to see patients with two strains of influenza, or influenza and strep infections at the same time, so if somebody were truly to come down with COVID-19 and influenza at the same time, we’re worried that could be a much more critically ill patient and could have more severe effects.
This year, we have seen record high numbers of RSV infections in children after experiencing very few cases last year. Influenza season could rebound much the same, putting more children at risk.
When should we make the appointment to get the flu vaccine?
Dr Canody: In Florida, traditionally our season normally starts in October and then goes all the way through spring break. Last year it was pre-empted by COVID-19 and all of the precautions in place to prevent the spread. As a result, we experienced a massive decline in influenza infections.
This year, we really don’t know. We’re hopeful that when the current peak of the COVID-19 Delta variant starts to decline, everybody will continue to take precautions including getting vaccinated, mask wearing, hand hygiene, and staying home when ill in hopes that we will see lower rates of influenza.
If you’ve never received the flu vaccine before and you’re 8 years old or younger, you actually need to get two doses. So, having those two doses at least a month apart will take a little bit of time. We recommend getting your vaccine as soon as you can. This year’s vaccine is already available at your pediatrician’s office or a pharmacy near you.
Since there are similarities between flu and COVID-19 symptoms, will children be screened for both?
Dr. Canody: With kids back in school and increasing social interaction, influenza testing will expand as we start to see infections in the community. With the younger kids, they will actually be screened for influenza, in addition to RSV and COVID-19. For the older kids, it’s influenza as well as COVID-19, and there are similar symptoms between COVID-19 infection and strep throat.
Should parents be concerned about bringing their child to a doctor’s office?
Dr. Canody: Physicians have worked to create a safe environment for kids to keep up with the normal checkups and also provide for those who are acutely ill. Pediatric care focuses on preventing and it is important to monitor growth and development. Additionally, putting off a visit for a problem can make it more difficult to treat. Be sure you are familiar with the changes your child’s doctor has put into place and bring along your patience, as keeping everyone safe may take more time.
The second thing is to make sure your immunizations are up to date. At one point, a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics reported approximately 50% of children were behind on vaccinations due to the pandemic.
Third thing: If you get sick, it’s important to be evaluated because although the prevalence of COVID-19 infections is currently in a peak, there are many other illnesses that kids experience. RSV, rhinovirus, and strep throat are all going around and something like strep needs to be treated with an antibiotic or you run the risk of heart problems. Contact your child’s doctor for guidance on testing, treatment and possible quarantine.
Do you think we’ll see less flu infections because of extra precautions for COVID-19?
Dr. Canody: Ideally, we hope for another quiet flu season, however, that is not expected because families have resumed full activities and travel. Following the practices we continue to stress is key: get vaccinated, practice hand hygiene, wear face coverings inside or in close proximity to others, and stay home if you are sick. Understanding that we all have a part in keeping each other safe and healthy is an important lesson for all to remember.
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- Preventing Another Pandemic: Why You Shouldn’t Fall Behind on Your Child’s Vaccine Schedule
- 10 Foods to Boost Your Family’s Immunity
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