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The 2020–2021 flu season is looking to be especially challenging as COVID-19 cases continue to surge. Doctors are again reminding people that it is critical to get a flu shot – this year and every year. – as it can help prevent flu from spreading as rampantly.

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.

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.”

Children can begin flu vaccinations ages 6 months and older, with rare exceptions. Not only will it reduce the risk of flu illness and hospitalization for the child, it helps prevent spreading the flu to siblings or babies who are too young to receive it.

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

Should my child get a COVID-19 vaccination and a flu shot?

Yes. Protection for one isn’t protection against the other. They're basically two different viruses and the recommendation for those 12 and older is to get both a COVID-19 and influenza vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they can be administered at the same time.

For children who are not yet eligible for the Pfizer COVID vaccine, a flu shot is still recommended as long as they are at least 6 months old.

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. 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.