Health expert: Back-to-school checklist should include flu shot

Pencils, notebooks, backpacks and lunchboxes are common back-to-school staples, but pediatric health experts recommend parents add flu shots to the checklist.

Fall and winter are virus seasons. Because children are together in contained classrooms, health care providers commonly see more viral infections during that time.

With the coronavirus dominating much of the attention for the past couple of years, MedStar pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Ruth Kanthula told WTOP that many people slacked off with their flu shots.

“And truthfully, with the first season of COVID, back in 2020, we were seeing less flu, and we were seeing predominantly COVID,” said Kanthula. “But that changed for the second season of COVID. In fall 2021, we were seeing more flu than we had the year previously.”

CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE: MedStar pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Ruth Kanthula. (Courtesy MedStar)

However, predicting the 2022 flu season is a bit complicated.

“One of the things that we’ve been seeing from a pediatric standpoint is some of the viruses that are normal for children have been off-cycle,” Kanthula said. “For example, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is a virus that we typically see in the late summer through winter, but we were seeing it in the spring.”

Kanthula said human metapneumovirus, which can cause cold symptoms, is another example of a virus normally seen in the fall, but which began circulating in the summer.

“So lots of different viruses are off-cycle, and I don’t know if it’s because of COVID, so it’s really unpredictable what flu is going to do this year,” she said. “But since we have a vaccine, I encourage everyone to get vaccinated.”

Timing is important for the flu vaccine to be most effective.

“It’s recommended you get the flu vaccine at the end of September or early October, just to make sure you have enough protection through the season, which goes through May,” Kanthula said.

Kanthula also encourages getting COVID-19 vaccines for school-aged children this fall, depending on where the child is within their vaccine schedule. She recommends good hand hygiene and would still encourage mask wearing indoors to prevent viral infections.

Area pharmacies, physicians’ offices and clinics are beginning to receive their flu vaccine supplies, and Kanthula says parents will likely be receiving messages from their pediatrician soon, to let them know the flu vaccine is available.

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