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 protect their children from 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 concluded. “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 added 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 August survey of nearly 2,000 parents of children age 2-18 years found many parents don’t see the flu vaccine as “more urgent or necessary,” heightening concerns the onset of flu season may make managing the pandemic worse. Fourteen percent of parents surveyed said they will not seek the flu vaccine because they are keeping children away from health care sites due to the risk of coronavirus exposure. Others may not be getting reminders to get the flu shot because child health providers have limited the number of patients seen for in-person visits.
Dr. 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 said.
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 flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of having to go to the doctor with flu by 40-60%. Multiple studies have found no link between vaccines and autism. Michigan Medicine urged 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 said their child was unlikely to get a flu vaccine this year, the most common reasons include concerns about side effects or beliefs that it isn’t necessary or effective.