Should kids still get a flu shot during the COVID-19 pandemic?

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While parents have been focusing on keeping the family safe during the pandemic, the arrival of the new school year brings up the yearly flu shot. COVID-19 is still a threat, and some may forget even to get the flu shot or have the kids get their annual shots.

We chatted with Dr. Beata Dygulska, Pediatrician, and Director of the Newborn Nursery at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital on the importance of the flu shot during COVID-19.

Getting the flu shot during COVID-19

Should kids get the flu shot? 

Every child over 6 months of age should get the flu shot (with the exception of children with previous anaphylaxis or an extreme reaction to the vaccine). Ideally, the flu shot should be administered as soon as it is available as it takes a few weeks for it to reach its full effectiveness. Each year children suffer severe illness and even death as a result of the flu. Getting your child the flu shot is an easy, safe, and effective way to keep them healthy. This winter will be even more challenging as we face the COVID-19 pandemic with symptoms that overlap with the flu infection. 

How can you tell the difference between the flu and COVID? What are the different symptoms and what should a parent do if their child comes down with certain symptoms, e.g., when should a parent keep a child home from school?

Unfortunately, flu symptoms are very similar to COVID-19 symptoms. If your child experiences symptoms like fever, cough, stomach-issues, body-aches, they should be kept at home while you get in touch with your healthcare provider. 

Children that are infected with COVID-19 are also at risk of developing MIS-C (Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome in Children). MIS-C usually develops several weeks after the COVID-19 infection and is a result of an overactive immune system response to the virus. The MIS-C syndrome is very rare, however, can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms of MIS-C include high fever, abdominal pain, respiratory distress, and/or a rash.

Does the flu shot help with COVID?

This is still unknown, there is currently no data that supports the idea that the flu shot may help with COVID-19. However, the flu shot is still very effective for the flu and is the best available option to keep your child as healthy as possible during the pandemic. 

Is COVID-19 in children different than in adults? If yes, how so? Why?

Children are affected less frequently and less severely by COVID-19 than adults and while a child that is infected with COVID-19 may show little to no symptoms, they can still be contagious. Recent evidence suggests that children have the same or potentially higher viral loads as adults do in their noses and can spread the virus easily throughout their homes, schools, camps etc. This is why handwashing, social distancing and wearing masks is critical in preventing the spread of the virus. 

As we head into flu season, is there any other information or guidance you’d like to share with parents about flu/COVID in children?

Your child’s mental wellbeing is very important in this time. Just like the rest of us, children are worried about themselves, their family, and their friends, so it is important to reassure them that they are safe. Try to maintain a normal routine, talk to them, listen to what they have to say, give honest and accurate information, monitor their behavior and health, and reassure them about their safety and well-being. Teach your children everyday actions like handwashing, wearing a mask (over 2 years of age), and social distancing. And don’t forget the flu shot!

This story first appeared on our sister publication newyorkfamily.com.