Why Your Child Needs Their Flu Shot ASAP (and Maybe a Second Shot, Too): A Note From Our Physician-in-Chief

This is a hectic back-to-school season for many families – but don’t be tempted to put off your child’s flu shot. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it’s important to get kids vaccinated for the flu as soon as possible.

Physician-in-Chief Juan Salazar, MD, MPH shares why you should call your child’s pediatrician today to schedule.

This year, kids should get their flu shot as soon as possible.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children get vaccinated for the flu in September or October. Because of the pandemic, I recommend aiming for September.

  • Right now, the rate of infection for coronavirus is still low, so it’s very safe to go into a doctor’s office.
  • Flu season starts as early as October – but it takes a few weeks for a vaccine to do its work in the body to create immunity. By getting a flu shot in September, your child’s immune defenses can be in place before the flu becomes widespread in the community.
  • The CDC does not anticipate any flu shot shortages this year, but pediatricians’ schedules fill up quickly. Plan ahead to make sure your child gets vaccinated before their doctor’s calendar is full.

> Call your child’s pediatrician now to schedule, or book a visit with our Division of Primary Care.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to get flu shots.

When we get sick with one virus, our immune systems are weakened, and it puts us at a higher risk of catching another virus. That means that this year, there’s a risk of getting both the flu and coronavirus.

  • If your child catches COVID-19 and has not had their flu shot, they may wind up sick with both illnesses at once. On the other hand, if your child has had their flu vaccine, they’re much less likely to catch the flu – and because they’ll be healthier overall, they’ll also be less likely to catch COVID-19.
  • There’s a bigger picture here: By preventing a major flu outbreak, we free up hospital beds and staff to care for coronavirus cases if there’s a surge. So we need to take every safety measure to keep ourselves and the people around us healthy. That means getting a flu vaccine to minimize the risk of flu, and (while we wait for a COVID-19 vaccine) wearing a mask and social distancing to minimize the risk of coronavirus.

> Related: Don’t Delay Your Child’s Vaccines – They’re More Important Than Ever

Kids (and adults) should get a flu vaccination every year.

  • Vaccines become less effective over time, so the shot your child got last year will no longer do a good job protecting them.
  • There are often several different versions of the flu going around, and last year’s shot may not cover all of them. This year’s vaccine covers four flu strains, and three of the four strains were not in last year’s flu vaccine.

Some kids will need a second vaccination, or a booster shot.

Your pediatrician will know your child’s individual needs. Here are some of the reasons your child might need a second vaccination – either weeks or months after their first flu shot.

  • It’s their first flu shot, and they’re under age 8: Children typically receive their first flu shot when they’re about 6 months old, but even if your child is up to age 8 and it’s their first time, they’ll need a second dose about four weeks later. This is because young kids’ immune systems don’t respond as strongly to vaccines as older kids and adults. The first flu shot “primes” their immune system, and the second shot helps it actually develop the antibodies it needs to fight off the virus. (For the same reason, if your child is under age 8 and only previously gotten one dose of flu vaccines, they should get two doses of vaccine.)
  • Immunocompromised: The immune system’s response to a vaccine wears off with time. For kids with a typical immune system, this isn’t a problem: A flu shot in September will get them through all of flu season, as late as April or May. But a child who is immunocompromised (whose immune system is weakened, either by a disease or a medication) will need a booster shot, probably around January, to ensure their immune system is protected through the end of flu season. Talk to your child’s doctor to decide the right plan.

> Related: Is It Safe to Send Your Child Back to School During COVID-19? Connecticut Children’s Physician-in-Chief Shares Advice for Parents

When you schedule your child’s flu vaccination, catch up on their other health needs.

The rate of COVID-19 community spread is very low right now in Connecticut, but we don’t know what will happen in the next weeks or months. Use this time to catch up on your child’s doctor’s appointments, while it’s relatively safe to be out and about.

  • Schedule a well visit with their pediatrician.
  • Schedule any specialty care you’ve been putting off – in many cases, you can connect with our pediatric experts right from home via Video Visit.
  • If your child needs medical attention, don’t wait. Our Emergency Department is open and safe for a wide range of pediatric care, not just emergencies – including when your child’s regular doctor isn’t available. Learn more here.

> Related: How Connecticut Children’s Keeps Kids Safe During COVID-19

For more information and advice, call our Pediatric COVID-19 Hotline any time.

Questions about coronavirus and your child? Call our 24-hour Pediatric COVID-19 Hotline at 833.226.2362 to speak to one of our clinicians.

We’re here to help, any day, any time.

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