Each year, parents hear doctors highly recommend that kids get the flu shot. But this year, it’s more important than ever for your child to get immunized against influenza, according to Dr. Walter D. Rosenfeld , chair of the Department of Pediatrics for Goryeb Children’s Hospital and medical director of Children’s Health for Atlantic Health System.

“It is just so important,” says Dr. Rosenfeld.  “Influenza is a highly contagious disease that’s been around for years and takes many lives. Children easily acquire flu.” While most children have good outcomes, some do get hospitalized from the flu and an even smaller number die or suffer long-term effects, Rosenfeld says.

Averting a Health Risk
Another consideration is that children can spread the flu to other household members, including parents and grandparents, which creates an important health risk.

“We need to reduce the burden of significant respiratory disease in all of our communities,” says Rosenfeld. “Everyone is justifiably concerned about COVID. Now imagine we have a surge in cases of flu – it will be challenging to differentiate. We should be doing everything we can to avoid having two crises at the same time.”

While some parents may be hesitant to take children to the doctor right now, Rosenfeld says that even though their worry is understandable the facts tell a different story. He says going to a doctor’s office or hospital is safer than going to the supermarket. “We’ve instituted extensive policies and procedures to reduce the chance that anyone will get infected,” he says.

Debunking the Flu Shot Myth
Myths surrounding vaccinations should not deter parents from getting the flu shot, he adds.

“There is absolutely no evidence that you can get the flu from getting the flu shot,” says Rosenfeld. “Some people get soreness at the site of injection, they may get aches and pains, but it’s a mild reaction to the vaccine itself and it is not the flu.”

As for timing, Rosenfeld says the sooner the better.

“Everyone should have gotten it by the end of October,” he says, reminding parents that it takes about two weeks to build immunity once you’ve gotten the shot, which is effective for about six months, and maybe longer.

“Cases of influenza typically begin to mount in September and October, get higher in November and December, then continue through winter and drop to lower levels in the spring. In many areas, schools are reopening which means kids are getting together with other kids, and flu infections are probably going to start to increase,” he says. So if you want to get the maximum benefit from the shot, get it early in the season.

Differentiating the Flu from COVID
As for what you need to know regarding flu and COVID-19, Dr. Rosenfeld says that both can cause upper respiratory and lower respiratory disease. Both flu and COVID-19 can also have GI symptoms including abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

“One symptom more specific to COVID is loss of smell or taste,” says Rosenfeld. “That would be a big clue.”

And while the flu vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective, it does significantly reduce the chance of getting it.  “Also, those who get the shot tend to have a milder illness then those who do not get immunized,” says Rosenfeld.

Talk to Your Child’s Pediatrician
There are very few reasons a child would not be a candidate for a flu shot, though Rosenfeld recommends consulting your pediatrician if you feel unsure.

Particular emphasis for vaccination should be placed on children with  chronic diseases like asthma, other respiratory disorders, and patients with cancer or neurological disorders, he says.

“Going to see your doctor is the starting point,” he says. “If you’re afraid or unsure, make that phone call,” he says.

The CDC website has useful information on the flu which can be bookmarked as a valuable resource.  Finally, Rosenfeld reminds parents to get the flu shot for themselves, too.

So many parents are self-sacrificing, they don’t think about the importance of their own self-care. But if you’re knocked out of commission you can’t help your child. It’s so important for parents to take care of their own health care needs including getting the flu vaccine. And then they’ll be less likely to give the flu to their children and other family members  too.”