Last flu season was the deadliest of the past 40 years on record. In the U.S., the flu and related complications claimed an estimated 79,000 lives during the 2017-18 season, including more than 180 children — the most of any year in the past four decades.
With the height of flu season upon us — reaching its peak from November to March — now’s the time for adults and children alike to get vaccinated against the potentially deadly virus.
It’s also time for parents to educate themselves on the common myths related to the flu vaccination’s impact, cost and access, helping to ensure that children and their communities stay safe and healthy this flu season.
Myth No. 1: Children can’t die from the flu.
False. Children can and do die from the flu, with 185 child flu deaths recorded last season; 80 percent of those children did not receive a flu vaccination. Additionally, 50 percent of children who died from the flu last season were otherwise healthy.
Moreover, between 2010-16, young children continued to be at the greatest risk for flu-associated pediatric deaths. And since 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that flu-related hospitalizations among children younger than 5 years ranged from 7,000 to 26,000.
Despite the flu’s potentially deadly impact, flu vaccination rates for children in school (ages 5 to 8) decreased from 38.9 percent in 2012 to 35.2 percent in 2016.
Both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that anyone over 6 months of age get a flu vaccination as soon as they’re available in their community, ideally by the end of October. It can take up to two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, and the ripple effect of one child getting the virus can quickly spread through families and the community at large — especially among high-risk/vulnerable populations, including pregnant women, the elderly and those with chronic conditions.
A new survey from the Harris Poll, commissioned by CareDox and Families Fighting Flu, shows that 50 percent of parents surveyed have not vaccinated their children yet this year, and 17 percent say they don’t plan to at all, with 32 percent of those citing that they believe the flu shot causes the flu. “That’s of course incorrect,” noted William Schaffner, medical director at the National Foundation for Infectious Disease, in a recent NPR interview. Addressing the misconception that the flu shot causes the virus, Schaffner explained that while a very small proportion (1 to 2 percent) may experience a degree of fever, this is not the flu virus, but the body’s natural reaction to the vaccine.
Myth No. 2: It’s costly/I can’t afford to get my child vaccinated.
Many parents are under the assumption that flu vaccinations are a costly, out-of-pocket expense that they can’t afford. Luckily, there are many ways to get children vaccinated against the flu at no cost to parents.
Most private insurance plans cover the flu and other vaccinations as part of their preventative or wellness services, though be sure to check with your insurance company to determine if the vaccination must be given at a specific location to qualify. Additionally, public insurance plans are required to cover the flu and other vaccinations without charging a copayment or coinsurance under the Affordable Care Act.
[See: 8 Healthy Activities for Fall.]
Myth No. 3: Children must be vaccinated in their doctor’s office.
There are fortunately many options for getting children vaccinated against the flu outside of the doctor’s office. Most retail health clinics, such as a CVS MinuteClinic or a Target health clinic, don’t require an appointment, have longer hours than a doctor’s office, have both providers and pharmacy staff on hand, and accept many public and private insurance plans for flu vaccinations.
For those without insurance coverage, most pharmacies — such as CVS and Walgreens — offer a walk-in flu shot for $40.99. However, because each state has limitations on the minimum age a child can be vaccinated by a pharmacist, especially younger children, it’s important for parents to do their research to determine the rules and regulations that apply in their state.
In addition, school-based vaccination programs are increasingly providing access to the flu vaccine in communities across the country. Through the CDC’s Vaccines for Children Program, school-based programs can offer flu vaccines at no cost for children who otherwise could not afford it.
School-based programs also give parents another vaccination access point, helping to ease the burden on those families who are unable to get to the doctor’s office during business hours or don’t have access to dependable transportation. For parents with students in Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Texas, Virginia or Washington, visit schoolflushot.com to see if your district offers no-cost, in-school flu shot clinics.
Know where to go: Families fighting against the flu.
Flu vaccination education, awareness and outreach is a critical public health issue, especially when not having the right information means parents don’t act. According to the Harris Poll survey, 30 percent of parents admitted that in previous years, they’d planned to vaccinate their children but ultimately didn’t. As a clinician, I want to ensure we’re arming our nation’s parents with the right information related to flu vaccination access, cost and impact to help keep children, families and communities safe, healthy and out of the hospital this flu season.
Whether in a doctor’s office, in school, at the local pharmacy or retail clinic, there are many ways and places to go to protect your child from the flu this season. What’s most important is that parents educate themselves and know the resources available to themselves and their children — from insurance coverage to access options in the community — as we enter the height of the flu season this fall.
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