(BPT) - While the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing, fall typically marks the beginning of flu season in the United States. What do parents of young children need to know about the upcoming flu season?
CDC is preparing for a flu epidemic this fall and winter
While it is not possible to predict what will happen with flu this season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is preparing for an epidemic of flu this fall and winter, as children are back in school, and families may be traveling and socializing once again. The agency is especially concerned about what this could mean for children, especially those aged 5 and younger who are at higher risk of potentially serious complications from flu.
“Flu can be dangerous for children, and each year, flu places a large burden on the health and well-being of children and their families. In 2019-2020, a record number of flu deaths in children were reported to CDC. With little flu activity since March 2020, it is possible that immunity to flu may be lower than usual. Lower immunity could lead to a severe flu season, especially for children younger than 2 years, who may not have natural exposure to flu viruses or been vaccinated previously,” Dr. David Shay, a pediatrician and medical officer with CDC’s Influenza Division, says.
Protect your kids against flu, get them vaccinated now
An easy way to counter the threat of flu is an annual flu vaccination, which is the best way to protect against flu and its potentially serious complications.
“We want everyone to get vaccinated, including all children aged 6 months and older. Some kids are at higher risk for complications from flu, including kids with certain underlying conditions, like asthma or diabetes, and all children younger than 5 years, but most especially those younger than 2 years. Getting those kids vaccinated this season is especially important,” Shay says.
Some kids need two doses of a flu vaccine
While every child needs a flu vaccine, some children need two. Children 6 months to 8 years who are getting vaccinated for the first time will need two doses of flu vaccine, spaced at least four weeks apart.
Shay adds, “We know flu vaccines are not perfect, and it is possible for vaccinated kids to get flu. However, we also know that getting a vaccine reduces the risk of flu, including its serious complications. There are abundant data demonstrating that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu infection and serious outcomes from flu. Getting a flu vaccine can be lifesaving in children. We want everyone to know and act on that information.”
Vaccinating caregivers protects young children too
Vaccinating caregivers is another way to provide some protection to young children, especially for those younger than 6 months old who are too young to get a flu vaccine. Additionally, pregnant people who get a flu vaccine also are helping to protect their babies from flu illness for the first several months after their birth. Failure to immunize young children and those who care for them can lead to serious, even deadly consequences.
CDC estimates that up to 20,000 children are hospitalized from flu annually. During 2019-2020, a single flu-season record of 199 flu deaths in children were reported to CDC. Statistical modeling suggests more deaths may have occurred.
“About 80% of the child deaths reported to CDC each season occur in children who were not fully vaccinated,” Shay says. “We’re acutely aware of that and work alongside many partners each year to raise awareness about the importance of annual flu vaccination for children.”