Does your child need a flu shot? Yes, especially this year.

an illustration of a child holding an umbrella to help protect during flu season
(Image: Adobe Stock/Illustration: Patrick Bibbins, Boston Children's)

Have you and your children received your flu shots yet?  If not, it’s important to get them as soon as possible. Every year, flu shots save lives by preventing influenza (another name for the flu), or reducing complications if people do get sick.

In fact, the flu vaccine is mandatory this year in Massachusetts for everyone aged six months and older who attends day care, school, or college.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a critical step, according to Dr. Kristin Moffitt, an associate physician with the Division of Infectious Diseases at Boston Children’s Hospital. She points out that since there is not yet an approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19, preventing the flu is the best defense to protect vulnerable children — and especially those with rare and complex conditions —from another threat.

The dangers of COVID-19 and flu

“We don’t know yet what will happen if someone becomes infected with COVID-19 and the flu at the same time,” Dr. Moffitt explains. “But we have reason to believe that getting both illnesses at once could be associated with more severe symptoms.” This is quite worrisome since each illness on its own can already lead to dangerous, or even fatal, complications for some patients. Children with complex medical needs, as well as very young children whose immune systems aren’t fully developed yet, can be at much higher risk of becoming very sick.

“We know the flu shot works, we know it tends to keep people healthier. Even if it doesn’t prevent the flu, it will minimize the symptoms and decrease the duration that it lasts,” says Almas Dimitri, a nurse practitioner with Child Health Associates, a Boston Children’s Primary Care Alliance practice.

The flu vaccine will also reduce the number of people who end up in the emergency room or who need to be hospitalized due to complications of the flu. This will help to conserve limited health care resources that may be needed for people who get COVID-19, adds Dr. Emily Brown of Middletown Pediatrics at Boston Children’s Health Physicians.

In addition, since the flu and COVID-19 look very similar, with symptoms such as fever, fatigue, cough, and body aches, it will be very difficult to tell them apart. As a result, people with symptoms will need to be tested for both the flu and COVID-19 and will need to quarantine until test results come back and COVID-19 is ruled out, Dr. Brown says.

Flu shot facts

Is the flu shot 100% effective at preventing the flu?

While the flu shot is very effective, it does not always prevent the flu entirely. However, it can reduce the severity of the illness and avoid serious side effects.

Will the flu shot make my child sick?

The flu vaccine does not contain any live virus and won’t make your child ill. However, some people have mild side effects, such as a low-grade fever and soreness in the arm. But these symptoms are not serious and usually resolve within a day or two.

How long does the flu shot last?

The immunity provided by the vaccine will last all season long. However, it can take about two weeks to help the body so it’s important your children get their flu shots as soon as possible.

Is there data to support getting a flu shot?

The CDC reports that in 2018-2019, getting a flu shot prevented:

  • 4.4 million cases of flu
  • 2.3 million health care visits for flu or related complications
  • 58,000 hospitalizations related to flu or related complications
  • 3,500 deaths associated with the flu in some way

Advice for parents

While the bulk of the flu is seen in the winter and early spring, there is some risk of getting the flu all year long. But there are also seasonal viruses; not all illnesses are the flu or COVID-19.

“If your child does get ill, my word of advice is to treat this like any other virus. Minimize contact with anyone else, monitor symptoms, and keep them hydrated,” says Dr. Brown. If things resolve in 24 to 48 hours, it likely isn’t the flu or COVID-19. But if things start to get worse instead of better, it’s important to call your pediatrician.

Please contact your child’s health care provider to schedule a flu shot. It’s also essential children stay up to date with all of their vaccines.

Get more answers to Boston Children’s response to COVID-19.

Share this: