With back-to-school season in full swing, parents have so much going on right now (as ever). But the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends adding one more task to your endless to-do list: Getting the flu vaccine for your kids (and yourself) by the end of October.
Children under 5 are at a higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes. Complications from flu infection can include pneumonia, dehydration or brain dysfunction. School-aged kids play “a pivotal role” in transmitting the flu virus to other household members, too, notes AAP.
“As a pediatrician and a parent, I consider the flu vaccine as critical for all family members,” said Kristina A. Bryant, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, written by the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases. “We should not underestimate the flu, especially when other respiratory viruses like COVID-19 are circulating within our communities. Besides making your child miserable and wreaking havoc on your family’s routine, influenza can also be serious and even deadly in children.”
When to get a flu shot for your child
AAP urges parents to get proactive by having their child get a flu shot as soon as possible between now and the end of October—but it will still be effective even if you get the shot after Halloween.
The reason for the rush? Though flu cases are low in number at this point, it takes a full two weeks for the body to build up antibodies to the influenza virus. It’s a smart idea to have antibody support in place before case numbers start potentially increasing this winter.
Though flu case numbers were relatively low last year, thanks to Covid precautions, flu case numbers are expected to rise this year as Covid safety measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing wane.
Where to get a flu shot
If your child is over age 3, you can walk into many pharmacies for a shot. If your child is under age 3, book an appointment with your child’s pediatrician, as the vaccine options differ for the under 3/over 3 age groups.
By taking steps to book appointments before Halloween, parents can make sure their children are protected when flu season typically ramps up in November and as the pandemic continues.
“This is a busy time for most families, with the start-up of school, sports and other favorite activities, like socializing with friends,” Dr. Bryant said. “Getting the flu vaccine helps protect everyone and allows for less disruption caused by illness. Don’t let the flu stop you this season.”
AAP and the CDC say the flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine can be administered simultaneously.
Pregnant women are also considered a vulnerable population when it comes to flu. The AAP recommends pregnant women receive the vaccine, which passes immunity onto the baby.
“Pregnant women may receive the flu vaccine at any time during pregnancy to protect themselves and their infants. Influenza vaccination during breastfeeding is safe for mothers and their infants,” state the AAP recommendations. Vaccination against flu during pregnancy is especially important for protecting your infant once born, as babies aren’t eligible for vaccination until 6 months of age.
This year’s flu vaccine is quadrivalent, meaning it will include four flu strains. Check with your child’s pediatrician to figure out which licensed, age-appropriate vaccine is right for your child.
A version of this post was originally published October 17, 2018. It has been updated by Motherly editors.