The U.S. is weeks away from the start of flu season, marking the ideal time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for your family to get a flu shot. But according to a new survey from the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, as many as one-third of parents don’t plan to have their kids vaccinated.
The findings — conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs — came from a randomly selected, nationally representative sample of nearly 2,000 parents with children ages 18 and under. The parents were asked not only whether they planned to vaccinate but how the current COVID-19 pandemic may (or may not) play into their decision. Two-thirds of those polled said they planned to get their kids a flu vaccine, with 49 percent declaring it “very likely” that they would get one and 19 percent “likely.”
But another third said they are “unlikely” to get their child a flu vaccine this year, citing concerns about side effects, the belief that it’s unnecessary and a desire to keep their kids “away from health care sites due to COVID-19.” Dr. L.J. Tan, chief strategy officer at the Immunization Action Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to vaccine education, said the first one is a very common reason for avoiding the flu vaccine.
“The big myth is that the flu vaccine gives you the flu, but that’s simply not true,” says Tan. “The vaccine is made up of inactivated parts of this virus, so it’s not capable of replicating.” The flu vaccine can take up to 14 days to take effect, which is sometimes the cause of the confusion, but it cannot cause the virus. He describes the flu shot as an “incredible safe vaccine” one in which side effects are rare. The CDC lists common side effects as “soreness from the shot, headache, fever, nausea or muscle aches.”
For the latter group, those avoiding the flu shot in order to stay away from health care centers, Tan deems it a “mistake.” “I think if parents go in and look at their health care systems, they’re going to see extraordinary measures to protect their children — sanitizing, social distancing, disease screening,” says Tan. “So I think it’s a faulty risk-benefit analysis … if anything, you do not want to get influenza with this fall season.”
His belief that this year is one in which parents should especially be wary of the flu isn’t necessarily something the majority of those polled agreed with. Only one-third stated that the flu vaccine is more important in 2020 than in previous years. On its website, the CDC begs to differ. “Getting a flu vaccine during 2020-2021 is more important than ever. Flu vaccination is especially important for children. Children younger than 5 years old — especially those younger than 2 — are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications,” the organization writes. “CDC recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older.”
Tan says the same. “Kids, and younger kids in particular, are very vulnerable to the bad outcomes because of influenza,” says Tan. “So we want them protected.” While the number of those affected varies every flu season, the CDC says millions of kids develop influenza each year, leading to thousands of hospitalizations and, in some cases, death.
Worst of all, a particularly bad flu season in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic could become what experts have described as a “twindemic,” a simultaneous outbreak of both diseases that may render hospitals unable to keep up with demand.
“With COVID circulating, we need to really make sure we can take flu off the table,” says Tan. “And there are altruistic reasons for that too.” Tan notes that while the majority of kids develop only mild symptoms of COVID-19 (if any), some studies have shown that they may actually carry a higher viral load of the illness, making them potentially more infectious.
“We talk about protecting the child from influenza, which is important, but the child is also one of those great transmitters,” says Tan. “So we want to make sure that if this child is interacting with grandparents this upcoming fall with COVID-19 circulating, we don’t want that child to be giving the twindemic to the grandparents.”
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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