By Shannon Baumer-Mouradian
MD, pediatric emergency medicine at Children’s Wisconsin
While the COVID-19 pandemic has changed much of 2020, one thing remains true — flu season is coming and getting the flu vaccination for your child is the best thing you can do to prevent them from getting sick.
The flu, or influenza, is a respiratory illness that causes fever, chills, cough, sore throat, congestion, body aches and fatigue.
Flu season typically begins in late fall, peaks in January and February, and may last until late spring. The flu virus changes each season, so even though you may have had the flu in the past, or have been vaccinated in previous years, you can get it again. It’s important to get your flu vaccination as soon as possible as it typically takes two weeks before the vaccination has done its job and is effective in preventing the flu.
The flu and COVID-19
Because of COVID-19, preventing the flu is more important than ever for a few reasons.
- Similar symptoms: Both the flu and COVID-19 share similar symptoms in kids — fever, chills, cough, sore throat, congestion, body aches and fatigue — which can make quickly diagnosing and treating someone more difficult. Getting both at the same time can also make it more difficult to recover.
- Symptoms that spread COVID-19: Among the symptoms of flu are a few that can actually help spread COVID-19 by releasing droplets — namely congestion and cough.
- Preventing crowded hospitals: Both the flu and COVID-19 can cause more people to need care in a hospital and we want to avoid hospitalizations as much as possible. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a study in 2018 found the flu vaccine reduces the risk of being admitted to an intensive care unit with the flu by 82%.
- Overall health: Getting a flu vaccination contributes to your overall health and the health of the community, making it less likely someone will have a severe reaction to other respiratory viruses and need hospitalization. The vaccination can also help shorten how long you have the illness and lead to less missed school and workdays.
All of these are preventable with the flu vaccination. Getting the vaccination is an easy way to help protect your family and community.
Is the flu vaccine safe?
The flu vaccine has been studied extensively, and it’s safe and recommended for nearly everyone older than six months of age. Not only is the flu vaccine safe, but the doctors’ offices and hospitals administering it are also safe. At Children’s Wisconsin, we’ve been during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The vaccine does not cause the flu
While there may be some side effects of getting the vaccination, like soreness at the site of injection and mild flu-like symptoms, the vaccine does not cause the flu. The potential side effects of the vaccination are much less severe than a potential case of the flu.
The flu and kids
The flu can make anyone feel awful, but it’s especially hard on kids. To help kids stay healthy, everyone in the family (with the exception of infants less than six months of age) should get the flu vaccine — kids, parents and grandparents. It’s also important for pregnant women to get the vaccine to protect themselves and their unborn babies.
At Children’s, we’ve set a goal of administering almost 100,000 flu shots this year in order to protect as many children as possible.
Where to get the flu vaccination
At Children’s, we are offering more times and locations to get flu shots, to make it as easy as possible to get a flu vaccination.
The flu and other vaccines should be covered by health insurance, but be sure to check with your insurance company to find out if you have to get the flu shot from a specific doctor or location.
To learn more about the flu or to schedule your child’s flu shot, visit childrenswi.org/flu.
If you have questions about your child’s health, please contact your child’s doctor. If they don’t have a doctor, call 2-1-1 and an operator can director you to the nearest community health clinic or other needed resources.