JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – During the last two flu seasons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tracked the highest number of pediatric flu-related deaths since the agency began tracking them in 2004.
In fact, 187 children nationwide died from complications associated with the flu during the 2019-2020 season, while 188 children died of the same causes the year before that.
Between 6,000 and 26,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized every year because of complications from the flu, according to the CDC.
This year, doctors are expressing concerns about what they’re calling a “twindemic” in light of COVID-19. Chad Neilsen, an epidemiologist for UF Health Jacksonville, said families shouldn’t get too comfortable because there are two tests to pass this school year.
“With kids going back to school we’re still in the middle of a COVID pandemic and what we want to avoid is having two pandemics or two epidemics going on at the same time,” he said.
Both the flu and COVID-19 are concerns this fall and, according to the Florida Department of Health in Duval County, school vaccinations are already down as much as 40% in 4-and 5-year old children. Doctors worry parents won’t get their kids vaccinated for the flu.
Dr. Mobeen Rathore, a pediatrician with Wolfson Children’s Hospital, reminds parents the flu can be deadly.
“Don’t forget the vast majority of children who died of flu in recent past did not have underlying health conditions. It’s the healthy children they can also die of this infection,” Rathore said.
Rathore encourages parents to get their children vaccinated as soon as possible, especially if they’ve never had the shot before.
According to the CDC, children ages six months through 8 years old who have never been vaccinated before will need two doses this season. The shots should be spaced at least four weeks apart to be fully protected.
The American Academy of Pediatrics reinforced those recommendations when it released its guidelines Tuesday, adding that everyone 6 months or older should get the flu vaccine before the end of October.
This year, it’s easier than ever for kids to get a shot.
Dr. Kevin Duane, who owns Panama Pharmacy, said he just received his first shipment of the flu vaccine and for the first time the federal government cleared the way for pharmacists to administer vaccines to children as young as 3 years old.
“If we know those children are not getting the vaccine, it’s going to be important that they get them wherever that vaccine is given,” Duane said.
Duane even hired someone to only handle vaccinations.
Dr. AJ Oliver has only been on the job a few weeks and he’s reaching out to current patients to make sure they understand that the entire family can now get vaccinated at pharmacies.
“Just because there’s a COVID-19 pandemic going on, there’s still going to be a flu season that’s occurring so we want to make sure that they are taking the best precautions to prevent any respiratory diseases including flu and pneumonia,” Oliver said.
One myth that doctors say continues to persist is that the flu shot can give you the flu. Neilsen said that’s impossible because the shot is made from inactive viruses.
“Some kids and adults might get a little bit of an immune response that would cause cold-like symptoms — sniffly nose or something of that nature — but that’s normal,” Neilsen said. “We’re trying to jumpstart your kids’ or your immune system by giving them a vaccination, and so those things are normal. It’s very rare that severe complications ever happen.”
The other benefit all the doctors noted was if you get the flu after you’ve been vaccinated, it’s usually a much milder case. While the flu can make you sick for five to seven days, if you’re vaccinated doctors say it could be more like three to five days instead.
For more information about vaccinating children and the requirements, visit the CDC’s website.
For more information on how to get a flu vaccine, including for those who do not have insurance, go to FluVaxJax.com.