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While the public is preoccupied with COVID-19, doctors are reminding parents that it is critical for children to get a flu shot – this year and every year. The flu vaccination can help protect children and prevent flu from spreading during a pandemic.

Parents shouldn't have COVID-19 safety concerns during a visit to their pediatrician. Novant Health providers are using creative ways to continue in-person visits. In some cases, a vaccine can be administered in the parking lot while the child is in his or her car seat. As an added precaution, clinics have designated certain entrances and office hours for well and sick visits. Cleaning and disinfecting are top priorities at every Novant Health location, too.

A flu vaccination is especially important for children. Kids younger than 5 – especially those younger than 2 – are at high risk for developing serious flu-related complications.

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Dr. Nazario Rivera-Chaparro

“It can be a devastating disease in kids,” said Dr. Nazario Rivera-Chaparro of Novant Health Pediatric Infectious Disease - Midtown. “A lot of times kids will get a secondary bacterial infection on top of a viral infection. They're basically dealing with two different infections at one time. The idea behind the flu vaccine is basically to avoid such complications, so they don't have to suffer that much.”

Last flu season, 188 flu deaths among children were reported to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a tragic milestone matching the record set in the 2017-18 flu season.

The flu season can start in the fall or winter, but not peak until the spring. It can be mild or severe, so experts agree it is best to prepare now by getting vaccinated.

Rivera-Chaparro answered some common questions about children and the flu vaccination:

Should my child also get a COVID-19 vaccination (assuming one will be available soon) if they have received a flu vaccination?

Yes. Protection for one isn’t protection against the other. They're basically two different viruses. In an ideal world, if we were to have both vaccines and they were equally effective, the recommendation would be to get both a COVID-19 and influenza vaccine.

If children have an underlying medical condition, why is it important for them to get the flu vaccine?

If a child has certain conditions – respiratory conditions, asthma, chronic conditions, cancer, malignancy, transplants – those patients with influenza have a harder time. The idea behind vaccination is we're trying to help the herd immunity, trying to protect other people who either cannot get the vaccine because they are immunocompromised or don't have it. We don't want it to spread.

Why is October the best month to get vaccinated for the flu? 

It allows your body to produce the antibodies before the flu season. October is kind of the ideal moment where you will have time to develop antibodies and still have time to have those antibodies circulating in the spring. If you do it earlier, there's a higher possibility especially with infants and older adults (past 65 years old) of losing some effectiveness from the vaccine due to what we call ‘waning immunity.’

Which children need two doses of a flu vaccine?

We recommend getting two doses when the child is getting their first flu vaccine. Children can begin flu vaccinations ages 6 months and older. The idea behind getting two, and those doses being spread or at least four weeks apart, is to allow the child’s immune systems to have a more robust response.

Is the vaccination available in nasal spray? 

Yes, but it depends on what your doctor has available. Children older than 2 can get the intranasal vaccine. As long as there is no contraindication, like allergies to egg, a history of asthma or cardiovascular conditions, a healthy individual can choose which one, as long as the doctor has both of them available.

What will help my child if he or she does get the flu? 

We do have good therapeutics. We have oseltamivir (the brand name is Tamiflu), which if given within the first 48 hours, can reduce the duration of symptoms. If your child has a high fever, cough, headache, mild muscle aches or feels tired, the first thing to do is contact your health provider to get a flu test and start them on Tamiflu as soon as they can.

What about parents who avoid the vaccination because it’s not a 100 percent guarantee against the flu?

Patients who get the flu vaccine, and by bad luck still get the flu virus, will have a milder course than patients who don't have the vaccine. Even if it's not 100%, it can decrease the severity of the illness. I tell parents it's not 100%, but 80 or 90% is still better than zero percent.