Public health experts fear winter will bring the seasonal flu on top of the coronavirus pandemic, and many parents, at least one survey suggests, aren't going to vaccinate their children against it.
One in three parents say they won't get their children flu shots this year, according to a national health poll released Monday by Michigan Medicine's C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.
"The pandemic doesn’t seem to be changing parents’ minds about the importance of the flu vaccine," the poll analysis concludes. "It could be a double whammy flu season this year as the nation already faces a viral deadly disease with nearly twin symptoms."
Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark says this could "overwhelm the health care system, strain testing capacity and potentially reduce our ability to catch and treat both respiratory illnesses effectively."
The hospital's survey of nearly 2,000 parents of children ages 2-18 in August found many parents don’t see the flu vaccine as "more urgent or necessary."
Fourteen percent of parents surveyed say they will not seek the flu vaccine because they keep children away from health care sites, unwilling to risk coronavirus exposure.
Others may not get reminders to get the flu shot because child health providers have limited the number of patients seen for in-person visits.
Michael Grosso, chief medical officer and chair of pediatrics at Northwell Health’s Huntington Hospital in Long Island, New York, says this issue is part of a larger societal problem on vaccine hesitancy. Grosso is not affiliated with the Michigan poll.
“Some parents decline the shot because they don’t think the flu is serious, others because they doubt that the vaccine works, while still others are afraid of the side effects,” he says.
During 2018-2019, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 4.4 million illnesses and 3,500 influenza-associated deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The agency says the vaccine can reduce the risk of having to go to the doctor for treatment of the flu by 40-60%. Multiple studies have found no link between vaccines and autism.
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Michigan Medicine urges health providers to send reminder postcards and post website messages to emphasize the importance of children getting the flu vaccine during this pandemic year.
Among the 32% of parents who say their child is unlikely to get a flu vaccine, the most common reasons include concerns about side effects or beliefs that it isn’t necessary or effective.
The survey found the families least likely to get their children flu shots are those who didn’t do so last year, and less than a third of those parents say their child will probably get a flu vaccine this year.
In contrast, nearly all parents who say their child got a flu vaccine last year intend to have their child get vaccinated this year.
Influenza has led to 9 million to 45 million illnesses, including 140,000 to 810,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 to 61,000 deaths a year since 2010, the CDC estimates.
Children younger than 5, and especially those younger than 2, are at high risk.
“Parents need to know that even if an immunized child goes on to get the flu over the winter, the odds of a serious complication or the need for hospitalization are significantly less,” Grosso says.
This is especially important during the pandemic, he says. Studies have found that children get sicker when they’re co-infected by two or more respiratory viruses.
“Being immunized against influenza is far safer than the alternative,” he says.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Flu shot poll: 1 in 3 parents don't plan to vaccinate kids in 2020