“It scares me”: Local doctors encourage flu shot for children after results of national poll

Published: Sep. 30, 2020 at 10:59 AM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Local healthcare professionals are reacting to a national poll that shows parents may not be taking the flu shot seriously this year for their kids.

A ‘National Poll on Children’s Health’ says 1 in 3 parents believe the flu vaccine is more important for children this year, than previous years.

“It’s a little bit scary to read that so many people are thinking that they might forgo the immunization this year especially going into flu season with COVID-19,” said Dr. Ryan Murphy, emergency medicine physician with BayCare Clinic.

“It scares me. It scares me because our hospital systems are being taxed with people who are extraordinarily sick and our resources are spread very very thinly,” said Dr. Donald Beno, pediatrician with Advocate Aurora Health.

The doctors are worried because unlike COVID-19, which seems to affect kids more mildly, despite some deaths, they say statistics show the flu is different.

“It’s actually the second leading cause of death for children in the winter time,” said Dr. Beno.

“We know that the mortality rate in young children, particularly under two, who get influenza is higher than children who have COVID-19 in that same age group,” said Dr. Murphy. “So if you were to acquire both of those illness that could be a potentially deadly outcome.”

As the United States approaches the flu season, along with COVID-19 cases, Dr. Beno and Dr. Murphy are keeping an eye on other parts of the world already dealing with both respiratory illnesses.

“In South America and in Australia, they did see patients that had both illnesses at the same time. When people had both illnesses at the same time they were 100 times more likely to have bad outcomes,” said Dr. Beno.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that children of all ages now make up 10 percent of all coronavirus cases nationwide, up from 2 percent in April. Dr. Murphy and Dr. Beno believe the flu shot is even more important for kids to get this year.

According to the parents who answered the poll, 32 percent said they won’t give their kid the flu shot for fear of side effects.

“There is always that thought that, ‘whatever year I get the flu shot, it makes me get the flu.’ We know that’s not true. The flu vaccine is an inactivated virus. It doesn’t cause the flu. You might have some mild symptoms after getting it but if it doesn’t cause the flu,” said Dr. Murphy.

“The reason people connect the influenza vaccine with those other symptoms, cough congestion, is that unfortunately we’re giving it in a season when people get colds,” said Dr. Beno. “If I could give it in the middle of summertime, no one would ever believe that the influenza vaccine causes those symptoms.”

Dr. Beno said the flu shot has to be given in the fall because it only provides about 6 months of protection for influenza. So in essence, if you get the flu shot in October, the vaccination will last into March.

According to the poll, 32 percent of respond parents also said they don’t believe the flu shot is effective.

“I think what people are weary of is-- can getting a flu shot increase my chance of getting COVID-19? And from what we know, no,” said Dr. Murphy.

Dr. Beno said the vaccine won’t offer 100 percent protection. He said, on average it’s 85 percent chosen correctly by the scientists who study it. However, he says it’s still your best bet to protect yourself.

“I can’t prevent COVID-19, at least not yet. But I can certainly prevent the severity of influenza, even on a mismatched year,” said Dr. Beno.

“It’s just another step that, as a society, we can do together to try to mitigate how fast COVID-19 is spreading and reduce the overall complications, as well as try to reduce burden on the health care system,” said Dr. Murphy.

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