For now, most kids are back in school. Along with many parents’ concerns that going to school could put their child at a higher risk to catch COVID-19, there’s also the possibility of picking up a case of the flu. But a new study just released by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) shows there’s a good way to reduce the chance of that happening — get your child a flu shot.
The research, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, analyzed data from the 2019-2020 flu season. This was during the largest national influenza epidemic in children in almost a decade, when there were a record-breaking 188 influenza-caused deaths. It was also a period when most of the flu activity was caused by two viruses that were different from the viruses used to create the vaccine. Still, the analysis shows the available vaccine, though not a perfect match, helped to prevent a much worse outcome.
The study involved 291 patients under the age of 18 who were admitted into U.S. hospitals, 159 of whom were critically ill with influenza. The remaining children made up the control group. The research found two solid reasons to be hopeful. For one, vaccination reduced the risk of a child getting a severe case of flu by 78 percent against a similar flu virus and 47 percent against a flu virus that drifted from the vaccine virus.
The vaccine was 76 percent effective in preventing life-threatening influenza that required the use of invasive mechanical ventilation, CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) or other severe complications — even death.
Secondly, the vaccine was 76 percent effective in preventing life-threatening influenza that required the use of invasive mechanical ventilation, CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) or other severe complications — including death.
“This is very good news,” CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said in a statement on the results. “[It] highlights that flu can cause serious illness in children, but flu vaccines can be lifesaving.”
Another plus? A flu vaccine helps prevent spreading flu to family and friends, including babies younger than 6 months who are too young to get a flu vaccine, and beloved grandparents.
Regardless of the vaccination’s benefits, it seems some parents are reluctant to get a flu shot or other recommended vaccines for their kids. According to a 2020 national poll on children’s health by C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at Michigan Medicine that included nearly 2,000 responses from parents of children between 2 and 18 years of age, one in three parents said they were not planning on taking their kids for a flu shot. Common reasons for rejecting the vaccination were fear of complications and the mistaken belief that the vaccine is neither necessary nor effective.
But every year there are millions of kids who get sick from the seasonal flu. It’s true that, for most, the flu will only involve resting on the couch or in bed along with taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and aches to help them feel better. But there’s no guarantee. Walensky recommends, “It’s especially important that children get a flu vaccine in addition to their recommended COVID-19 vaccine,” to avoid the possibility of thousands of children ending up seriously ill and hospitalized.
If you haven’t gotten your child a flu vaccine, talk to your pediatrician about the next step.