For children who may be due for other typical childhood vaccines, are there any risks of getting everything at once?
No, there aren’t. Your child may start getting somewhat additive side effects, meaning the likelihood of having a little bit of headache, muscle aches, low-grade fever for a day is going to go up a little bit. But getting them all at once gets them all out of the way, and they’ll be protected against all of those things as quickly as possible.
If your child isn’t eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine yet, get the flu vaccine because that’s going to provide a protection against at least the flu part of it. And then when the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available for 5- to 11-year-olds, go and get that as soon as possible.
What can we expect for the upcoming flu season considering the low flu activity last year?
There is still going to be more masking, more social distancing, more hand hygiene, and more being careful this year than in most years, but schools are open, and lots of schools throughout the country have no particular mandates for kids in terms of vaccination, masks, and social distancing rules. And influenza, as an epidemic disease, is typically started by kids. So even if the adults may be being careful, this could be a big year for the flu because it’s going to be generated by kids who are going to come home and give it to their parents.
There’s also a second issue — because virtually nobody got the flu last year, there’s not a lot of immunity to the circulating strains. Many authorities are worried that this year could be a bad year for the flu because there’s a lot less immunity in the population.
What do you say to reassure your patients that it’s safe to get both a flu shot and COVID-19 vaccination?
I tell them the truth, that I’m doing it myself. I had my third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine this fall, and I’ll get the flu vaccine in early October, just the way that I recommend for my patients to do. And I’ve gotten my flu vaccine every year for 35 consecutive years. We have a wealth of safety data on the influenza vaccine.
I get a lot of people asking me, “If it’s only 40% or 50% effective, why should I bother with it?” And the answer is: Any protection is better than none. Before COVID-19, during flu season in January and February, sometimes half or more of the medical ICU was people with influenza and pneumonia. Flu shots give you even more protection from bad complications of flu.