This is the year when kids need their flu shots more than ever. If your child contracts COVID-19 and hasn’t had their flu shot, they may wind up with both respiratory illnesses at once. And that could be dangerous.

“We still don’t know what co-infection might look like,” said Matthew Hinton, MD, pediatrician at Ponderosa Pediatrics, a YRMC PhysicianCare clinic. “Influenza is a major illness that causes a lot of suffering among children. Why take the chance of compounding that with COVID? Especially when we have a vaccination for flu.”

Plus if you protect your child with a flu shot, they’ll be healthier overall. Yet according to some studies at least a third of American parents say they don’t plan to have their kids vaccinated for influenza this year.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” states Dr Hinton. “Many parents worry the flu shot will make their children sick. But you cannot catch flu from the vaccine. If you feel a little under the weather after a flu shot it just means your immune system is doing its job. It’s helping your body develop an immune response to influenza. This is common and benign.”

Debunking Myths

To debunk a couple other myths: A flu shot does not increase the risk of getting COVID. Nor does a flu shot cause a positive COVID test result. What a flu shot does is prevent influenza. It saves lives. Still, many people don’t get them.

“I often see parents who fully immunize their children, but don’t want to vaccinate against the flu,” Dr. Hinton said. “They say they don’t get a flu shot and they’ve never caught the flu. So why get a flu shot for their children. I try to encourage them that just because they’ve never gotten the flu doesn’t mean they won’t.”

“Of all the things you can immunize against, the disease your child is most likely to get is influenza,” states Dr. Hinton. “It is by far the most common. Especially during the winter months when respiratory viruses are very active. There are hundreds of them. It can be hard to distinguish one from another when a child gets sick. By taking flu out of the equation we can better test and isolate other viruses.”

Freeing Up Resources

By preventing a major flu outbreak, we free up hospital capacity should we see a surge in coronavirus cases. “When hit by a flu epidemic the ER often fills up with people with influenza,” Dr. Hinton said. “If you add COVID on top of that it can overwhelm medical resources.”

We need to do everything we can keep ourselves and our children healthy. That means getting a flu shot to minimize the risk of influenza. And wearing a mask and social distancing while we wait for a COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC addresses many questions around influenza and COVID here.

Dr. Hinton recommends a flu shot for all children 6 months and older. “We’ve seen bad flu epidemics as early as October, although they’re more common between December and February.”

The flu vaccine is currently available for Ponderosa Pediatrics patients. If you don’t currently take your children to Ponderosa Pediatrics, they are now accepting new patients. Just call (928) 778-4581.