The coronavirus pandemic and the upcoming flu season could pose a double threat, but many U.S. parents plan to skip flu shots for their kids, a new survey finds.
Though public health experts stress the need for people of all ages to get the seasonal flu vaccine during the COVID-19 pandemic, 1 in 3 U.S. parents said they don’t plan on taking their child for a flu shot this fall. Just a third think having their child get vaccinated is more important than usual this year.
Common reasons cited include unfounded concerns about side effects or mistaken beliefs that a flu shot isn’t necessary or effective.
Those are among the findings from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at Michigan Medicine. It was conducted in August and included nearly 2,000 responses from parents of children between 2 and 18 years of age.
“We may see peaks of flu and COVID-19 at the same time, which could overwhelm the healthcare system, strain testing capacity and potentially reduce our ability to catch and treat both respiratory illnesses effectively,” said poll co-director Sarah Clark.
“Our report finds that even during the pandemic, some parents don’t see the flu vaccine as more urgent or necessary,” she added in a poll news release. “This heightens concerns about how the onset of flu season may compound challenges in managing COVID-19.”
Since 2010, the flu has caused 9 million to 45 million illnesses, 140,000 to 810,000 hospitalizations, and 12,000 to 61,000 deaths a year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Children under age 5, and especially those younger than 2, are at high risk for serious, flu-related complications. Last flu season, 188 children died of the flu, CDC data show.
Parents who didn’t take their children for a flu shot last year are least likely to do so this year (less than a third), while parents who took their child for a flu shot last year were most likely to do so again (96%), according to the survey.
“A key challenge for public health officials is how to reach parents who do not routinely seek seasonal flu vaccination for their child,” Clark said. “When getting a yearly flu vaccine is not a pattern, parents need to be prompted to think about why it’s essential for their child to get vaccinated.”
Parents whose healthcare provider strongly recommends flu vaccination are more likely to have their kids vaccinated this year, but less than half of parents said their child’s regular healthcare provider strongly recommends a flu shot this year.
This may be because there’s been a sharp decline in-person visits with doctors during the pandemic, Clark said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on flu prevention.
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