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Is it too late to get the flu shot?

The Great Flu Shot Debate: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

As we move toward the winter months, we’re already seeing some cases of high fevers, body aches, and cough that are not COVID-19. We may be just coming into flu season, but with many ER waiting rooms already full of patients due to COVID, the wait times are increasing. Reported cases of other respiratory viruses, including the flu, are rising. Being in the thick of it all, parents are left asking,“Should my child get a flu shot now?”

The Great Debate: Should You Get the Flu Shot Now?

My obvious answer is to definitely get vaccinated ASAP! But there are still things to consider when making this important decision for your entire family.

Here are my top 3 reasons to go ahead and get vaccinated for the flu as soon as you can:

Now, let’s dive deeper and weigh both sides of this great debate!

Reasons to Jump in ASAP with the Flu Vaccine

With an active pandemic on our hands, we need to do what we can to reduce other viruses and respiratory illnesses to keep our immune systems working at their highest levels.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we did see a huge reduction in flu cases nationwide. These low levels were due to multiple factors, including the measures we were taking to prevent the spread of COVID like wearing masks, hand washing, and social distancing.

However, a resurgence of pre-pandemic flu cases is always a possibility. In the United States alone from October 2019 to mid-January 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 15-20 million people infected with the flu. Hospitalizations due to complications of the flu numbered from 140,000–250,000. And there were 8,200–20,000 influenza-related deaths during that time period.

We do not want to go back to those types of numbers, especially during this COVID pandemic when so many hospital resources are already running on empty.

As a pediatrician, I stress to you that the best protection against the flu is the flu shot. And here are 5 reasons to make an appointment TODAY.

1. The Danger is Always Lurking

The reality is you can get the flu any time during the year. As doctors, we recommend you get the flu vaccine in late September because the flu season starts in October.

However, it peaks in February.

As we inch closer to the new year, the amount of reported cases of the flu will continue to rise. And we predict to treating cases through February and March and possibly even into May.

2. There’s No Time Like the Present

It takes an average of 2 weeks for the flu vaccine to become effective. Even though flu season is estimated to peak in late January, you want to be protected before the peak hits.

Getting your child vaccinated now, will help protect them against the flu season’s major peaks through early spring.

3. Better Than Nothing

I believe that some protection is better than no protection. Influenza is most dangerous for the younger population and the elderly.

There are many dangerous and even fatal complications from the influenza virus.

So getting your child vaccinated NOW is the best way to protect them from getting the flu or to help lessen the severity of flu symptoms.

4. Back in Action

As a pediatrician, I know the importance of protecting ourselves against influenza. As a mother, I dread the tears and drama vaccinations cause.

But there’s another option this year!

After some time off the market, the nasal spray flu vaccine, FluMist, is once again being offered to children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) previously questioned how well the spray worked for children. However, with recent improvements to the mist, the CDC and AAP now say parents can choose the best option for their little ones – shots or spray.

5. Herd Immunity

Children under the age of 6 months old cannot get the flu shot. However, they have the highest risk of complications if they get sick with the flu. So if you have other children in the house who go to school, it is imperative you get them vaccinated to protect your infant as much as possible.

In addition, research shows newborns and infants get some protection from the flu if their mothers get a flu shot while pregnant.

Reasons to Exercise Caution with the Flu Vaccine

Unfortunately, as a pediatrician, I see firsthand the complications and secondary infections influenza causes. So I’m almost always 100% on board with getting vaccinated ASAP.

But while I understand the importance of protecting our children from influenza by vaccinating them, there are some important things to consider before you just dive right in.

1. Get In and Get Out!

We are seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases, as well as other severe respiratory viruses, currently across the nation. So when you take your child to the pediatrician to get the flu shot, there is a higher risk they will be exposed to other illnesses in the waiting room.

If you’re going to go to your pediatrician to get the flu shot, call ahead and see if you can make an appointment with a nurse. You can also make the first available appointment of the day. I can’t tell you how many children go to the doctor to get their flu shot and catch something else while they are waiting to be seen.

Another important thing to note is if your child has never gotten the flu shot before and is under the age of 9, they are going to need to receive two separate shots of the vaccine. That means not one, but two chances of getting sick in the waiting room!

2. No Guarantees

Depending on the vaccine given for the season, you are protected against 3-4 strains of the influenza virus. Therefore, although the vaccine lowers your chance of getting the virus, it does not guarantee you will be immune to the flu.

Yes, that’s right. You can still get the flu even if you get a flu shot!

It’s a bummer, but that’s part of the game each year. We can’t protect against every strain of the flu. So we have to pick which strains appear to be the worst each season and protect the masses against those strains.

But if your child got the flu shot and still ends up with the flu, chances are the severity of symptoms and the duration of the illness will likely be lessened.

My best advice is that if your child had the flu shot but shows symptoms of the flu, have them evaluated by their pediatrician. It could still be the flu.

3. The Aftermath

The injection itself can cause a lot of tenderness to the area where the shot was given. It’s mostly a slight irritation, but kids tend to exaggerate and be dramatic about the pain sometimes.

You can lightly massage the area for an hour after the injection. It significantly decreases the pain to that area. If your toddler or child received their vaccination in their thigh, walking for a while afterwards also seems to lessen the irritation later.

Also, don’t be too alarmed, but your child may experience mild flu-like symptoms after receiving the vaccination, especially with the FluMist.

Final Thoughts: Should You Get the Flu Shot?

So should you or shouldn’t you in this great debate?

Well, as long as people are still getting the flu, it’s definitely a good idea to get vaccinated!

While my short answer is always going to be, “There’s no better time than NOW to get the flu shot!” it’s definitely a personal decision you need to make for your family. Weigh all your options. And take all the possibilities of this debate into consideration to come to the conclusion that works best for you and your children.

~ Dr. Katie

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