Winter is coming, and so is influenza season. If you weren’t already concerned about you and your children catching COVID-19, now you have the flu joining the host of infectious respiratory illnesses to be worried about.
As children return to in-person school, a higher number of children with no prior exposure to flu could be exposed and become infected. So, it’s more important than ever for children 6 months and older to get vaccinated against the flu.
“Parents shouldn’t hesitate because the vaccine is safe and can help prevent the flu and all the bad things that go along with it,” said Nathan Price, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Banner - University Medicine Pediatric Specialty Clinic. “Now is the time to get it so you are protected before flu season hits. It will mean that there are a lot fewer sick people this winter which will help a lot as we continue to battle COVID-19.”
As a parent, you want what is best for your child, but you may be a little leery about getting a flu shot after hearing myths warning against flu vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rest assured, these are completely false. Getting a flu shot is one of the best things you and your family can do this year.
We put to rest a few flu vaccine misconceptions circling the internet and share why the flu vaccine is so important for your family’s health and the health of our country.
MYTH #1: The flu shot will put my child at greater risk for getting COVID-19.
FALSE. The influenza vaccine won’t put children at greater risk for getting COVID-19, but it also won’t prevent them from getting COVID-19 either. The flu vaccine is tailored to specific strains of the influenza virus, so it won’t protect you from COVID-19.
“There is no experience of this happening and nothing logical to suggest that it is possible,” Dr. Price said. “Sometimes getting one infection makes it easier for you to get another infection, but getting a flu vaccination could help prevent this from happening during flu season.”
It is also important for everyone 12 years of age and older to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as they can. For a COVID-19 vaccine location near you, visit vaccines.gov.
MYTH #2: The flu shot can cause you to test positive for COVID-19.
FALSE. The flu vaccine won’t make you test positive for COVID-19, because it doesn’t contain coronavirus. SARS-CoV-2, or COVID-19, is a coronavirus, not an influenza virus, which means getting a flu vaccine will not cause you or your child to test positive for COVID-19 or any coronavirus.
MYTH #3: The flu shot will give my child the flu.
FALSE. The flu shot uses only pieces of the influenza virus, not the whole virus itself to help the immune system recognize and block it when it tries to enter into your body. The nasal spray has a live virus, but it has been changed so it can’t cause the influenza disease.
“It is impossible for the virus parts of the vaccine to cause any infection,” Dr. Price said. “It’s kind of like posting a wanted sign in public places to help folks recognize and report a criminal, so he or she can be caught. The picture itself can’t commit any crimes.”
Why has this myth circulated for a while now? It may be because in some people, the vaccine can stimulate a mild immune system reaction, which can make them feel a little under the weather for a very short period of time. This simply means the vaccine is working, and it is nothing like the severity of an actual infection.
Many people also happen to coincidentally get the flu right around the time they got the vaccine (and before the vaccine had enough time to prevent infection), so they may feel like the shot gave them the infection when in fact it didn’t.
“The best time to get a flu vaccine is at least two weeks before you are exposed to the virus, because it takes a couple weeks for immunity to kick in,” Dr. Price said. “This is why getting your flu vaccine earlier in the season (September/October timeframe) before it becomes widespread is important. That being said, if it is later in the season and you haven’t, it’s still a good idea to get the vaccine since you can be exposed at any time.”
Why should my family consider flu shots this year?
Plain and simple: because it prevents influenza and saves lives.
“It is so important to get the flu vaccine every year, but especially important during the pandemic,” Dr. Price said. “If your child catches COVID-19 and hasn’t had their flu shot, you don’t want to put them at risk of getting both illnesses at once.”
Getting a flu shot can also help save precious hospital resources as we continue to fight the pandemic.
“We need to take every safety precaution to keep our family and everyone around us safe,” Dr. Price said. “This means getting your flu shots, wearing a mask, social distancing and washing your hands frequently.”
Where can I get my child vaccinated for influenza?
Contact your child’s primary care provider to schedule their flu shot as soon as possible. Most medical insurance plans and Medicaid cover childhood immunizations, including the flu shot.
However, if yours does not and you can’t pay outright, don’t worry. There are places that offer free or low-cost vaccines, such as your local health department, community churches and many employers. Visit vaccinefinder.org to see locations in your area that are offering the flu shot.
Flu shots are also available at all Banner Urgent Care locations. You can reserve your spot online.
Updated: Edits to the content of this article were made on September 7, 2021.