Canadian Paediatric Society urges families to get flu vaccine for entire household

TORONTO — Families should ensure everyone in their household gets vaccinated against the flu, a pediatrician group urged Friday as a triple-whammy of respiratory viruses continued to slam children's hospitals.

The Canadian Paediatric Society said the advice was even more urgent for families with young kids, as influenza is spreading rapidly, along with surges of COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus.

Children under the age of five and those with chronic health conditions are more likely to need hospitalization if they catch the flu, the organization said.

Dr. Kevin Chan, chair of CPS's acute care committee, says parents and caregivers should turn to their family doctor or local public health unit to find out where they can book their age-appropriate shots.

"I would encourage families to get the flu vaccine as quickly as possible," Chan said.

Earlier this week, public health officials reported the start of a flu epidemic, with levels of influenza higher than in previous years.

With COVID-19 in the mix, parents of little kids may be faced with a decision on which vaccines to prioritize, Chan acknowledged.

Federal data shows 7.3 per cent of children four and under have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and only 2.4 per cent of children in that age group have their primary series completed.

While adults and kids aged five or older can get the COVID-19 and flu shots at the same time, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends that for kids aged six months to five years old, the COVID-19 vaccine should be spaced out from other vaccines by two weeks. This recommendation is "out of an abundance of caution to track side effects more easily," per the Hamilton Health Sciences website.

Chan said for those cases, at this time the flu shot should be the priority.

"I would actually encourage getting the influenza A vaccine a little bit sooner than the COVID vaccine at this stage," he said. "Because it is clear that the influenza A viral numbers are extremely high right now."

If more kids get their shots, he said, it could help to reduce the number of children in pediatric hospitals across the country.

"It would make a major difference in reducing the risk for your child getting sick," he said.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, said at a news conference Friday that increased viral transmission in the pediatric age group can be passed on to seniors and those who are most vulnerable.

"That could well be coming next, and we need to protect our seniors, our long-term care facilities who have of course been through a really difficult, time in the last two to three years," she said.

The Canadian Paediatric Society and National Advisory Committee recommend that all children six months and older receive an annual influenza vaccine.

Children who are between six months and nine years of age who have never had a flu shot before should receive two doses, spaced out four weeks apart, according to Health Canada guidance.

The shot helps prevent those who are exposed from getting very sick from flu complications and can help decrease the spread of the virus, the federal agency says on its website.

It can also reduce a recipient's chances of being infected with the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, which could lead to serious complications, Health Canada notes.

Tam said flu shot uptake is generally highest among seniors and those with underlying medical conditions.

"So there's always room to increase vaccine uptake in the very young," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2022.

Christian Collington, The Canadian Press