Amid the coronavirus pandemic, many health experts say that getting vaccinated against other diseases, such as influenza and pneumonia, can help prevent severe illness. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is still actively spreading across the globe, and has infected more than 33.27 million and claimed the lives of over 1 million individuals worldwide.
As the northern hemisphere flu season fast approaches, cases of both the influenza virus and the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19, are expected to surge.
A survey from the National Poll on Children’s Health, however, revealed that one-third of American parents have no plans of getting their children vaccinated for the flu virus this year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, two-thirds of parents plan to have their children vaccinated this year. Further, parental intention for flu vaccination is slightly lower for parents of teens compared to younger kids.
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Few parents believe flu shots are important
Among parents who said they do not plan to let their kids get flu shots, one in seven said they are keeping their children away from health care facilities due to fears of COVID-19. Also, less than half of the parents mentioned that the regular health care provider of their child strongly recommended flu vaccination this year.
Of the parents included in the survey, 34 percent believe that having their kids get flu shots is more critical this year than previous years, while 8 percent said it is less important. About 58 percent of the parents mentioned that it is about the same.
Though more parents intend to get flu shots for their children, the number of those who will not have their kids vaccinated may become a challenge in the current fight against COVID-19. When the flu season kick starts, hospital admissions may skyrocket, which may overwhelm the already exhausted healthcare system.
Last year’s flu season
Though the flu season can go on for the whole year in the United States, it becomes more common during the fall and winter when the temperature starts to drop. The exact timing and duration of the flu season may vary, but influenza activity usually starts by October, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.
On its website, the CDC plotted the flu seasons from 1982 to 2018, showing flu activity usually peaked in February, with 15 flu seasons, followed by December with seven flu seasons, January with six sessions, and March with six sessions.
The CDC estimates that between October 2019 through April 2020, there had been 39 million to 59 million flu illnesses in the United States. About 410,000 to 740,000 people had been hospitalized due to flu, while there were 24,000 to 62,000 deaths
Children who are younger than 5 years old, especially those who are below 2 years old, are at a high risk of developing serious flu-related complications. During the pandemic, getting flu shots is essential for all ages.
Flu shots during the pandemic
Public health experts have emphasized the importance of flu vaccination during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce the number of influenza-related hospitalizations, reducing the stress on health care systems.
Nine months into the pandemic, health workers are exhausted, and many are still becoming infected with the novel coronavirus. With the raging COVID-19 pandemic and the additional burden of flu cases, hospitals could become full, and there would be not enough beds to accommodate all patients.
The survey also shows that healthcare providers should strongly recommend that their patients should get a flu vaccination.
“This poll indicates that child health providers may need to give proactive guidance about flu vaccine during visits in the spring and summer,” the report said.
The primary concern of parents is that, during the pandemic, they are concerned about bringing their children to healthcare sites to get vaccinated. They fear that their children might be exposed to SARS-CoV-2. However, the report reiterates that most doctors have modified their clinic environments and protocols to keep children and parents safe when they come in for office visits or vaccinations. Some institutions are even offering drive-through vaccination.
“Given the results of this Mott Poll, child health providers should pursue multiple strategies to emphasize the importance of flu vaccine during this COVID pandemic,” the report explained.
“Providers should make it a point during all in-person and telehealth visits to clearly state their recommendation for all children older than 6 months to get a flu vaccine,” it added.