Cases documented during last year’s flu season were the lowest in recorded history — by a wide margin. Medical professionals alike have never seen anything like it.
Last winter, mandates were enforced to help stop the spread of COVID-19: from masks and social distancing to virtual school to cancelled large events. An unforeseen positive side effect was a seemingly non-existent flu season.
“The extra precautions we took last year were exceedingly helpful in reducing flu cases — and it wasn’t just the flu,” said Dr. Eric Robinette, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Akron Children’s. “We didn’t see near as many patients for other respiratory viruses, such as RSV and croup.”
So, many families are wondering: Is it even necessary to get a flu shot this year? Dr. Robinette said absolutely everyone 6 months and older should get one.
“The issue is we don’t know exactly which precautions were the most effective in reducing the flu,” he said. “Mandates are being lifted and there’s waning desire to continue to follow strict precautions against COVID-19, so it’s likely to be a bad flu season this year.”
Not to mention, historically speaking, mild flu seasons are often followed by terrible ones because not enough natural immunity has been built up.
“We’re all about risk reduction, and the flu shot is proven to protect your kids and reduce their risk for complications,” said Dr. Robinette. “It’s easy, affordable and there aren’t many downsides. Consider the flu vaccine just a part of normal health maintenance for your kids, just like any other childhood vaccine they receive.”
Influenza activity often begins to increase in October and peaks between December and February. So, the best time to receive the flu vaccine is in late September and October. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm it’s safe to receive both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at or around the same time.
While it might be tempting to skip or put off the flu vaccine this year, there are many reasons why it’s very important that you don’t. Find out why Dr. Robinette is urging families this year to get their flu shot. It not only protects your kids and family, but also your community and beyond.
Protects your child from influenza
Catching the flu can be dangerous to you and your family’s health. Flu can be a serious illness, especially for high-risk kids, including infants and those with chronic conditions, such as asthma. Even in healthy children, the flu has been shown to cause serious complications, such as pneumonia.
Getting the flu vaccine can help keep your child from getting sick with the flu, reduce the severity and length of the illness if she does get it and reduce her risk for a flu-associated hospitalization or even death.
In addition, the vaccine can help protect against exposing your vulnerable family and friends, such as grandparents and infants, to the flu.
Not to mention, if your child is already sick with the flu, it can weaken her immune system and make her more susceptible to COVID-19. Her body may not be able to fight off COVID-19 as easily as it would otherwise, especially if her lungs are still recovering from the flu.
“In a typical flu season, we believe our flu vaccine campaign prevents at least a hundred hospitalizations, hundreds of doctor visits and thousands of missed days of school,” said Dr. Robinette. “In the grand scheme of things, the flu shot, although it’s not always a perfect match, makes a big difference in the health of the population.”
Reduces risk of co-infection
The flu shot also can reduce your child’s risk for a co-infection because it is possible to catch both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Though they are both contagious respiratory illnesses, different viruses cause them — and having both at the same time can be devastating, no matter how healthy your child is.
“We know people can get multiple respiratory viruses at the same time, but we still don’t know how the flu and COVID-19 will interact together due to limited data,” said Dr. Robinette. “But, common sense tells us it’s likely to lead to a more serious illness and potentially hospitalization.”
Getting sick with a respiratory infection in an ongoing pandemic has a lot more implications than it otherwise would. If your child gets sick with the flu, it will be treated like COVID-19 until a few negative tests prove otherwise because they share similar symptoms.
So now, your child — and possibly her teacher and others in her classroom — will miss 2 weeks of school. You, the parent, will have to miss work while she’s isolated at home and your child will have to go to the doctor’s office to get tested for COVID-19.
“Getting sick during these uncertain times is much more complicated,” said Dr. Robinette. “If for nothing else, simply preventing the flu could be a major convenience factor for families this year in terms of missed work, school and medical expenditures.”
Flu shots are now available at Akron Children’s primary care locations and drive-through clinics. You can schedule your child’s flu vaccine at Akron Children’s pediatrics offices in MyChart.
Learn more about Akron Children’s COVID-19 response and resources available for families.