As we head into the peak of flu season, doctors' waiting rooms are filled with children suffering from high fevers, body aches and cough. Wait times are increasing and reported cases of the flu are rising.
As a parent, you may be wondering: "Is it too late for the flu shot?" Since you've waited this long, should you rush out to get your child vaccinated now, or hold off and just ride out the rest of the season?
As a pediatrician, I recommend getting your family vaccinated against the flu as soon as possible. But there are still things to consider when making the decision for your family. So let's take a look and weigh both sides of the great debate.
Is it ever too late for your child to get a flu shot?
Reasons to get the flu vaccine ASAP
You've probably heard about the coronavirus and RSV outbreaks this flu season. These epidemics have become a focus in recent news. But even though these viruses are scary with sometimes frightening statistics, the numbers don't compare to the flu.
In the United States alone from October 2019 to mid-January 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 15-20 million people have been infected with the flu. Hospitalizations due to complications of the flu number from 140,000–250,000. And there have been 8,200–20,000 influenza-related deaths.
As a pediatrician, I stress to you that the best protection against the flu is the flu shot.
Here are 5 reasons to make an appointment today:
1. You can get the flu outside of "flu season."
The reality is, you can get the flu any time during the year. As doctors, we recommend you get the flu vaccine in late September because the flu season starts in October.
However, flu season peaks in February. With the start of the new year, the amount of reported cases of the flu continues to rise. And we predict it will continue to rise into February and March. We will probably continue to treat cases into May.
2. The flu peaks again in spring.
It takes an average of 2 weeks for the flu vaccine to become effective. Even though the flu season is estimated to peak soon, the season is not officially over until May. Getting your child vaccinated now will help protect them against the flu season's second peak in early spring.
3. The shot can lessen the symptoms later on.
I believe that some protection is better than no protection. Influenza is most dangerous for the younger population and the elderly. There are many dangerous and even fatal complications from the influenza virus. So getting your child vaccinated now is the best way to protect them from getting the flu and to help lessen the severity of flu symptoms.
4. You can get the flu vaccine without a shot!
As a pediatrician, I know the importance of protecting ourselves against influenza. As a mother, I dread the tears and drama vaccinations cause. But there's another option this year!
After some time off the market, the nasal spray flu vaccine, FluMist, is once again being offered to children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) previously questioned how well the spray worked for children. However, with recent improvements to the mist, the CDC and AAP now say parents can choose the best option for their little ones—shots or spray.
5. The flu shot builds herd immunity.
Children under the age of 6 months cannot get the flu shot, however, they have the highest risk of complications if they get sick with the flu. So if you have other children in the house who go to school, it is imperative you get them vaccinated to protect your infant as much as possible.
In addition, research shows newborns and infants get some protection from the flu if their mothers get a flu shot while pregnant.
Reasons to exercise caution with the flu vaccine
Unfortunately, I see firsthand the complications and secondary infections influenza causes. So I'm almost always 100% on board with getting vaccinated. While I understand the importance of protecting our children from influenza by vaccinating them, there are some important things to consider before you just dive right in.
1. You're at risk in the waiting room.
We are in the peak months of flu season. So when you take your child to the pediatrician to get the flu shot, there is a higher risk they will be exposed to the flu in the waiting room.
If you're going to go to your pediatrician to get the flu shot, call ahead and see if you can make a nursing appointment, or make the first available appointment of the day. I can't tell you how many children go to the doctor to get their flu shot and catch something else while they are waiting to be seen.
Another important thing to note is if your child has never gotten the flu shot before and is under the age of 9, they are going to need to receive two separate shots of the vaccine, which means not one, but two chances of getting sick in the waiting room!
2. There are no guarantees vaccine will prevent the flu.
Depending on the vaccine given for the season, you are protected against 3-4 strains of the influenza virus. Therefore, although the vaccine lowers your chance of getting the virus, it does not guarantee you will be immune to the flu.
Yes, that's right. You can still get the flu even if you got a flu shot!
It's a bummer but that's part of the game each year. We can't protect against every strain of the flu. So we have to pick which strains appear to be the worst each season and protect the masses against those strains.
But if your child got the flu shot and still ends up with the flu, chances are the severity of symptoms and the duration of the illness will likely be lessened.
My best advice is that if your child had the flu shot but shows symptoms of the flu, have them evaluated by their pediatrician. It could still be the flu.
3. The aftermath can be tough for kiddos.
The injection itself can cause a lot of tenderness to the area where the shot was given. It's mostly a slight irritation, but kids tend to exaggerate and be dramatic about the pain sometimes.
You can lightly massage the area for an hour after the injection. It significantly decreases the pain to that area. If your toddler or child received their vaccination in their thigh, walking for a while afterwards also seems to lessen the irritation later.
Also, don't be too alarmed, but your child may experience mild flu-like symptoms after receiving the vaccination, especially with the FluMist.
So, should you take your child for a flu shot now, or not?
As long as people are still getting the flu, it's not too late to get vaccinated. While my short answer is always going to be, "There's no better time than NOW to get the flu shot!" it's definitely a personal decision you need to make for your family. Weigh all your options, speak with your child's doctor and take all the possibilities of this debate into consideration to come to the conclusion that works best for you and your children.