By: Flor M. Muñoz, MD, FAAP
It's that time of year again― influenza (flu) season is here!
Many people don't realize it, but the flu can be a very serious illness. It causes thousands of deaths in the United States every year, even among previously healthy children. With the
COVID-19 pandemic this year, it is even more important to protect your child from viruses like influenza.
As a parent, the best thing you can do to protect your children from the flu is to get them vaccinated before influenza starts circulating in your community. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children age 6 months and older get their influenza vaccine by the end of October. Everyone around them should be vaccinated, too.
What types of influenza vaccines are available?
For the 2020-2021 influenza season, there are two types of influenza vaccines available. The first is what many people call the "flu shot." The second comes as a
nasal spray. All the vaccines available for children this year contain 4 influenza viruses (two A and two B viruses).
Should I get the shot or nasal spray for my child this year?
Both the AAP and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) want as many children as possible to get a flu vaccine every year. The AAP recommends that any licensed vaccine available this year and appropriate for a child's age and health status be given to children, with no preference. Both types of available flu vaccine (flu shot or nasal spray) can be given according to their indications, with no preference, for the 2020-2021 flu season.
What do we know about influenza circulating with COVID-19?
At the end of last flu season when COVID-19 was circulating, more people had to be hospitalized or died from what doctors called "influenza-like illnesses."
Flu and COVID-19 will be spreading at the same time again this winter. Getting a flu shot will help protect your child from one of these viruses.
If my child tested positive for COVID-19, should she get a flu shot?
Children with COVID-19 can still get a flu vaccine after they recovered from their COVID-19 illness. Keep in mind that symptoms such as a stuffy and runny nose can make it hard to give the nasal spray vaccine.
What about allergies to influenza vaccines?
A child who had an allergic reaction after a flu vaccine in the past should be seen by an allergist. The allergist can help parents decide if their child should receive their annual flu vaccination. A child with a known history of egg allergy can receive the flu vaccine.
Don't wait to get vaccinated!
When possible, children should get the flu shot in September or October. There's no need to wait, even if your child the previous year's flu vaccine in March or April. Influenza season typically peaks in February, so not too late to get the shot during winter or early spring. Children 6 months to 8 years of age should receive two doses if this is the first time they are being vaccinated against influenza, or if they have only received one dose of flu vaccine ever before July 1st, 2020.
Where should I go for my child's flu shot?
Your pediatrician knows your child best. The pediatrician’s office has your child’s health information, making it easy to keep track of the flu shot in your child’s health record. Now more than ever, it is important to stay connected to your pediatrician and your medical home. Many pediatricians also offer flu shot clinics, including curbside and drive-through clinics. If your child must go somewhere else like a pharmacy, retail-based clinic or other place for a flu shot, parents should share the document they receive with the pediatrician.
Remember, getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself, your children, and other loved ones from the flu!
About Dr. Muñoz
Flor Muñoz, MD, MSc, FAAP, is associate professor of Pediatrics and Infectious Diseases at Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine. She is an investigator in various projects focusing on vaccines and the epidemiology of respiratory infections, including those supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She has published extensively on topics related to vaccines and influenza. Dr Muñoz is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases (AAP COID) and of the American College of Gynecologists (ACOG) Immunization Expert Group. She also serves on the Influenza Work Group of the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).