Just like clockwork, flu season is expected to arrive right on time and it’s on a collision course with COVID-19. This is why the medical community is gearing up to get ahead of this year’s flu viruses by offering the flu vaccine now.
While we are taking extra precautions like wearing face coverings, social distancing and frequently washing our hands, there are still so many unknowns about COVID-19, 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 and treatments, including both preventative and treatment for the illness, we had almost 200 children in the country die in the country from influenza and 25,000 adults. So, it’s something that’s real and something we are presented with every year.
The second reason is because with the pandemic-COVID-19 infections, at this point in time, 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 really truly to come down with COVID and influenza at the same time, we’re worried that could be a much more critically ill patient and could have more severe effects.
BayCare recently launched the Back to School Resource Hub, a one-stop shop for families looking for health related information as their kids head back to the classroom. The site is loaded with great content like informational videos, expert advice, and even videos for kids!
When should we make the appointment to get the flu vaccine?
Dr Canody: In Florida, traditionally our season normally starts later in October and then goes all the way through spring break. This year it was sort of pre-empted by COVID; because everybody was home from school and stopped all of their spring break trips, we had a massive decline in influenza infections. This year, we really don’t know. We’re hopeful that [with] everybody wearing masks, social distancing, and following all of the protective procedures we’ve tried to re-enforce and educate people about, 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 get it this fall.
Since there are similarities between flu and COVID symptoms, will children be screened for both?
Dr. Canody: With kids going back to school and increasing social interaction, it will be a part of our screening from here on out. With the younger kids, they will actually get screened for influenza, RSV and COVID infections. For the older kids, it’s influenza as well as COVID, and there’s also a lot of overlap between COVID infection and strep.
Check with your child’s pediatrician to find out if they’re offering flu vaccine clinics or even drive-thru vaccinations for older kids.
Should parents be concerned about bringing their child to a doctor’s office?
Dr. Canody: Medical offices are safe. We’ve put in place a lot of precautions. We’re taking everybody’s safety and health with the utmost importance and [as] the top priority, so it’s important you maintain your ongoing preventative care. Kids should get their checkups every year. We pick up a lot of problems that way and if we’re not seeing them, then it’s really difficult to manage those issues and much more difficult to treat.
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 may be behind on vaccinations due to the pandemic.
Third thing: If you get sick, it’s important to be evaluated because there are other illnesses and right now, we’re still seeing more strep infections than COVID infections in kids, and something like strep needs to be treated with an antibiotic or you run the risk of heart problems.
Do you think we’ll see less flu infections because of extra precautions for COVID?
Dr. Canody: I think good hand hygiene, wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing and being socially responsible–understanding that you do this for those around you, not just yourself—is really important. Kids respond well to that and they are also really resilient.
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