With last year's brutal flu season still fresh on many minds, and headlines about a fatal case in Florida popping up in our feeds, doctors across the country are urging parents to get proactive by having their child get a flu shot as soon as possible, before the end of the month if you can.
"This year's flu shot might be more important than ever before," Dr. Frank Belmonte, the chief medical officer of Advocate Children's Hospital told WGN News.
Dr. Belmonte is part of a coalition of doctors urging parents to be "flu free by Halloween", the Chicago Tribune reports.
He says the immunization takes a couple of weeks to take reach full effectiveness, and that by getting our children immunized now, parents can ensure they're protected when flu season ramps up in November. Belmonte's recommendations echo those made by the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) earlier this season, and by the Centers for Disease Control. It reports about 80% of the children who died last flu season had not received a flu vaccine.
"The flu virus is common—and unpredictable. It can cause serious complications even in healthy children," said Flor M. Munoz, MD, FAAP, member of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases, in a recently released policy statement. "Being immunized reduces the risk of a child being hospitalized due to flu."
The AAP recommends pediatricians offer the injectable form of the influenza vaccine to all children 6 months or older before the end of October. They also support the option of the nasal flu vaccine, but note it was less effective in past years than the shot, "therefore, AAP recommends the flu shot as the first choice for children."
In a recent statement, Henry Bernstein, MD, MHCM, FAAP, a member of the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and an Ex-Officio member of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases, said the effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies annually and is affected by factor's such as the child's health and the strain in the community.
But even though the flu shot does not ensure immunity, experts from the AAP say it's the best way to protect kids from the flu. Bernstein added, "We urge parents to talk with their pediatricians now to avoid any delay in getting their children vaccinated."
In addition to children getting the vaccine as soon as it's available, the AAP also recommends pregnant women receive the vaccine, which passes immunity onto the baby. For children between the ages of 6 months and 8 years who are getting the flu shot for the first time this year, two doses are recommended.
According to the AAP and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 2017-2018 flu season was one of the most severe on record with 179 children dying from influenza complications as of August 18.
"Unfortunately, you can spread influenza without realizing it because some infected people begin to spread the virus a day or two before they have symptoms," said Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBA, FAAP, a pediatrician in Seattle and an AAP spokesperson. "Get the shot. It just makes sense."
[Updated, October 17, 2018: added comments made by Dr. Frank Belmonte]