Kids should get flu vaccines by end of October

Flu could pose serious problems in places like day cares and schools in the months ahead.

As cases of flu are already popping up, Norton Children’s Medical Group, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, urges families to get their children vaccinated before the end of October.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual flu vaccines for children starting at 6 months old. Children between the ages of 6 months and 8 years old who are getting flu shots for the first time should get two doses of vaccine, according to the CDC.

“It’s important to have children protected against the flu virus before flu season starts, because building antibodies typically takes a couple of weeks after vaccination,” said Kristina K. Bryant, M.D., pediatric infectious diseases physician with Norton Children’s Infectious Diseases, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “Flu vaccines are safe and offer protection against the most common strains of the virus.”

Dr. Bryant worries that parents may not know that this virus can cause serious illness and death in children. During a typical season, millions of kids are infected with flu, and thousands are hospitalized. 

While the last two flu seasons were mild compared with a typical season, children die from flu each year. The CDC reported 37 pediatric flu deaths during the 2021-22 flu season and one during the 2020-21 flu season, compared with 199 pediatric flu deaths during the 2019-20 flu season and 144 during the 2018-19 flu season.

With masking and other COVID-19 precautions being lifted, there’s concern flu could return or surpass pre-pandemic levels and that a severe flu season is on the way. The CDC already is noticing flu spreading in some parts of the U.S., which concerns local doctors.

“We have so many young children who have never been exposed to flu, whether through vaccinations or past infections,” Dr. Bryant said. “This could pose serious problems as flu spreads in places like day cares and schools in the months ahead.”

Schedule a flu shot with your child’s pediatrician, or you can find one here.

Kentucky has trailed the U.S. in pediatric flu vaccinations for the past two flu seasons, according to the CDC. The state reported 50% of children 6 months to 17 years old got their flu shots in the 2021-22 flu season, and 51% were vaccinated in the 2020-21 flu season compared with 55% of children 6 months to 17 years across the U.S. in the 2021-22 flu season and 57% nationwide in the 2020-21 flu season.

“Vaccination is so important in protecting your kids against the flu,” Dr. Bryant said. “Even if they catch it, being vaccinated can help limit the severity of flu infections and improve recovery time. Some protection is better than no protection against the flu.”

Flu symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Aches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Chest congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Headache