I wrote this op/ed and unfortunately it was not selected. I believe in the power of vaccination. I will get my word out here.
The flu vaccine is recommended for infants and children 6 months and older. Multiple factors point to this season potentially being a concerning one for our pediatric population. This past fall and winter were unusual with COVID-19 circulating as the predominant virus. Our efforts to keep the spread of COVID-19 down ultimately made the past influenza season almost non-existent. We pediatricians are asking parents to get their children vaccinated against the influenza virus as we are potentially expecting more wide spread influenza this coming season.
Last year many children had school remotely or had COVID precautions in place at school with masking, social distancing and frequent hand cleaning. This school year will potentially be different. Currently many schools in Northwest Indiana are not mandating children to wear masks in school. Even in schools where masks will be mandatory, the influenza virus has the potential to circulate and cause infections in children.
In a recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by the CDC (Weekly / July 23, 2021 / 70(29);1013–1019 Sonja J. Olsen, PhD, et al.) concern is raised regarding this upcoming influenza season. With such low circulation of influenza virus this past year we might see more widespread disease this coming season. The pediatric population, especially the very young, may be left more susceptible to influenza infection as they do not have the prior exposure and thus immunity to the virus.
Just how effective is the flu vaccine in children? Studies show that children who get an influenza vaccine have a reduced risk of needing ICU care by 74% and significantly reduced risk of dying from the flu. In the 2019-20 flu season 188 pediatric deaths were reported in the US. Vaccine efficacy rates can vary due to which strain is circulating, but the efficacy for children is similar to that of adults at 40-60 %. The flu vaccine is given to reduce risk of infection and, as we are seeing with the COVID-19 vaccine, its power to reduce the possibility of severe illness and death is significant.
It is estimated that influenza infections in children cause 12,000 to 46,000 hospitalizations each season. I fear that this coming flu season children will need hospitalization for non-COVID-19 illnesses and those with rare COVID-19-related serious illnesses may not have a bed available at their local hospital. There are no pediatric intensive care beds in Lake County Indiana. Only two Lake County hospitals have pediatric units with a total of less than twenty beds. Last winter season the hospital I admit to in Northwest Indiana was closed to pediatric admissions. This was in response to the high bed volume needed for adult patients specifically with COVID-19 infections. If other community hospitals in the Chicagoland area need to do the same, we will be relying on our Chicagoland children’s hospitals to take on the number of ill children needing inpatient care. There are only so many beds available.
Influenza infection and COVID-19 infection have similar symptoms. If a child (regardless of having a history COVID-19 vaccine or not) presents with fever, sore throat, cough and runny/stuffy nose, it is likely they will be tested for both viruses if they are living in an area where COVID-19 virus is high in circulation. If a child gets the influenza vaccine, they will be less likely to get flu infection and so less likely to need evaluation and testing for a virus infection. Parents tell me they don’t want their child to wait in the urgent care or the ER with other sick people.