By Gabrielle Williams | September 23, 2020 at 2:01 PM EDT – Updated September 23 at 5:05 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Last flu season, nearly 200 children died from the flu. According to the CDC, only 21% of children eligible for the vaccine were actually vaccinated against the flu.
“All pediatricians encourage children to get a flu shot, not so much to prevent the child from getting the flu, that ultimately is our hope,” said Dr. Kaylan Edwards, a Pediatrician at Novant Health Pediatrics Brunswick in Supply. “But the bigger thing is, children who are vaccinated against the flu, we know that if they were to still get the flu, they have a lot lower likelihood of having to end up in the hospital due to severe illness.”
Experts urge everyone to get the flu shot each year, but say it’s critical for children to help protect them from the virus and prevent the spread while we’re still in a pandemic. Many in the medical field fear hospitals will become overrun come winter.
“Ultimately, we’re trying to keep the flu illness as low as we can,” said Dr. Edwards. “The biggest thing we face in the upcoming months is along with coronavirus, we could have a peak in the flu. And we’re really concerned about our hospitals reaching capacity and being able for everyone to provide the care that our elderly need or parents need or children need. And so really trying to get those children vaccinated in the hopes of if they do get the flu, we can at least keep them out of the hospital.”
With schools going back to in-person learning keeping kids healthy, regardless of the virus, is important.
“We’ve had a tough year with keeping kids on campus for education,” said Dr. Edwards. “We’re trying to keep kids in school setting as much as we can. So everyone’s big concern is, you know, there were a COVID outbreak in a school. But still flu outbreaks happen in schools and have happened in the past and can cause just as great of a problem.”
Flu and COVID symptoms are very similar which has parents and school leaders closely monitoring students for those symptoms like fever, cough, and sore throat.
“The really difficult thing this year is that flu and COVID present so similar and so it’s hard to tell which one it is,” said Dr. Edwards. “Our big thing, again is if our children are getting the flu vaccine, our hope is that if they do get the flu, they won’t become as sick as they potentially could, if they were unvaccinated.”
Flu season runs from October through May, but Dr. Edwards says now is the best time to get the vaccine.
“The CDC and AAP, which is the academy for pediatrics, are recommending for us to try to have all of our children vaccinated by the end of October,” said Dr. Edwards. “And our goal would be if everyone is vaccinated by the end of October, hopefully that will get us through the more severe part of the flu season.”
Dr. Edwards said she often gets asked why people should get the flu shot if getting the flu is still a possibility.
“We’re trying to prevent all children from getting a severe illness,” said Dr. Edwards. “And so the flu each year brings a different effect, it brings a different effect to every children, some years are much worse than others. But all in all, we know that children can be hospitalized due to the effects of the flu.”
If a child gets the flu before getting the vaccine, Dr. Edwards says they should still get the shot despite already have the flu.
“The flu vaccine that’s being provided for all patients this year is a quadrivalent vaccine,” said Dr. Edwards. “So that means it has four strains of protection in it. So they may have gotten one string, but they’re easily susceptible to all of them again, and so you’re still protecting them even though they may have already had it.”
For more information about why children should be vaccinated for the flu, click here.
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