Medical professionals recommend children get flu vaccine ahead of the predicted bad flu season
With flu season beginning soon, Kentucky medical professionals are strongly recommending that children 6 months and older get vaccinated.
“It’s important to get [the] vaccine now because we want kids to have protection when flu season starts,” said Dr. Kristina Bryant, a pediatrician with Norton Children’s Infectious Diseases.
Bryant said doctors usually recommend people get vaccinated against the flu by the end of October, but this year she recommends getting the shot as soon as possible.
In addition to being an early flu season, the 2022-2023 flu is predicted to be one of the worst in recent years.
“Flu season is wrapping up in the Southern Hemisphere, and in places like Australia they’ve had particularly bad flu seasons,” Bryant said.
Using Australia’s recent flu season as an indicator of what the U.S. should expect, experts also predict a “twindemic” is possible.
People have been concerned about a simultaneous surge of COVID-19 and flu cases since the pandemic began. This year, Australia experienced a twindemic, further raising concerns in the U.S.
There is little research into what happens when someone contracts both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time, or the lasting effects of such an infection.
“It is relatively logical in that, if you have two infections in your body at one time, that can just be incredibly dangerous. It puts you at much higher risk to have complications from either virus,” said Dr. Mary Manley, a pediatrician at Baptist Health Lagrange.
With COVID-19 restrictions like universal masking lifted, there are fewer mitigation strategies in place to prevent both the spread of COVID-19 and the flu.
“Going into this flu season, we have kids who’ve never been exposed to flu and who, in fact, never had flu vaccine before, so they don’t have any pre-existing immunity to protect them,” Bryant said.
In recent years, without the flu posing a large threat, vaccine numbers have decreased. During the 2019-2020 flu season, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 63.7% of children ages 6 months to 17 years old got their flu shot nationwide.
For the 2021-2022 flu season, that dropped to 57.8% nationwide and 53.2% in Kentucky.
“Kids are going back to school, they are getting together again in the way they used to, but they may not be as protected both from a lack of vaccination standpoint last year and lack of wild type infection,” Manley said.
With the lack of protection and high transmission rates among children, the chance for flu outbreaks in schools is a concern. These outbreaks can spread from home to home and affect entire communities.
Young children and those with pre-existing conditions can be severely impacted by flu infection.
“We had multiple young children who would get bacterial pneumonia following flu, and they get really sick,” Manley said. “That’s because the immune system is distracted in having to work so hard to fight off flu.”
Medical professionals say minimizing the virus as “just the flu” downplays how serious it can be.
“This is not just a cold,” Bryant said. “This is more serious than a cold, and in a typical year, thousands of kids get hospitalized with the flu.”