As we head into the peak of flu season, the waiting rooms are filled with children suffering from high fevers, body aches and coughs. The wait times are increasing, and reported cases of the flu are rising. Being in the thick of it all, parents are left asking, "Is it too late for the flu shot?"
Since you've waited this long, should you rush out to get your child vaccinated NOW or hold off and just ride out the rest of the season?
My obvious answer is to definitely get vaccinated ASAP! But there are still factors to consider when making the decision for your family. So let's weigh both sides:
REASONS TO DIVE IN ASAP WITH THE FLU VACCINE
Surely you've heard of coronavirus outbreaks in the news lately. These epidemics become a focus and grab headlines. But even though coronaviruses are scary with sometimes frightening statistics, the numbers don't compare to the flu.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between Oct. 1, 2019 and Feb. 1, 2020, at least 12,000 people died from flu and 210,000 people were hospitalized with flu across the United States. There were 78 pediatric deaths. In past seasons, about 80% of pediatric flu deaths reported to CDC occurred in children who were not fully vaccinated.
As a pediatrician, I stress to you that the best protection against the flu is the flu shot. And here are five 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.
With the start of the new year, the amount of reported cases of the flu continues to rise. And we predict it will continue to rise into February and March. We will probably continue to treat cases 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, the season is not officially over until May.
3. It's 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. It's possible to avoid a shot.
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 can be a protection.
Children under the age of 6 months 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 details to consider before you just dive right in.
1. Get in and get out!
We are in the peak months of flu season. So when you take your child to the pediatrician to get the flu shot, there is a higher risk they will be exposed to the flu in the waiting room.
If you're going to go to your pediatrician to get the flu shot, call ahead and see whether you can make a nursing appointment, or 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 consideration is that 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, which means not one, but two chances of getting sick in the waiting room!
2. There are 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 got 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. Factor in the aftermath.
The injection itself can cause some tenderness to the area where the shot was given.
You can lightly massage the area for an hour after the injection. It might help to decrease the pain to that area. If your toddler or child received their vaccination in their thigh, walking for a while afterward 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.
SO SHOULD YOU OR SHOULDN'T YOU?
Well, as long as people are still getting the flu, it's definitely not too late 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.
I hope this helps you with your journey. Please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you have about the flu or flu vaccine. You may also find my article I think I have the flu, now what? helpful.