Why flu shots for kids is important during the pandemic

The flu shot has been touted to act as a preventive shield against the soaring viral infection and decrease the risk of developing respiratory problems like H1N1 and pneumonia, which could aggravate a person's risk of getting COVID-19.

By Dr Vikas Satwik

Making your kids get flu shots every year is a great idea, but even more this year as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout much of India. Considering seasonal changes and other factors, parents are aware that bouts of cold and flu also bring in several respiratory issues among children. However, falling sick with both flu and covid can be a recipe for disaster and in that case hospitalisation of kids becomes inevitable. As all hospitals are being filled up with sick patients, public health leaders are urging everyone to get the flu vaccine to both protect ourselves and prevent hospitals from being overcrowded with sick patients.

Though the idea of taking flu shots in India is not that common as in the western countries, doctors are now recommending people to get a flu vaccine shot as it is the need of time. The flu shot has been touted to act as a preventive shield against the soaring viral infection and decrease the risk of developing respiratory problems like H1N1 and pneumonia, which could aggravate a person’s risk of getting COVID-19.

Flu is an epidemic and children need to get flu shots to build their immunity, because if not, they might end up being hospitalised. Morbidity (health issues) of flu is high whether it is swine flu or normal flu and children act as super spreaders in spreading the flu to other household members. However, it is also important to keep your child away from people having the flu in your household as they are more vulnerable and susceptible to contract it.

It is important to immunise children up to five years. The first flu shot is given at six months after they are born, as up to six months they have their mother’s immunity to protect them. Therefore, once a child turns six months, parents must ensure they get their child a flu shot every year until five years of age. Children above six years can still develop flu if they have predisposing factors like asthma, immune problems or heart issues. The current recommendation by Indian Academy of Paediatrics and ACVIP (Advisory Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations Practices) does not recommend routine flu shots after five years of age.

In this pandemic, it is said to keep children safe from flu or other diseases because if they get both flu and COVID it’s a double whammy, which means the morbidity and mortality are exponentially raised. According to doctors, there’s no particular season to get shots, but in India, flu shots are given before the onset of monsoon because this is the time when most fluctuations happen in the weather so to keep children safe before monsoon, flu shots are recommended. Despite COVID, there’s a lot of traveling happening inter-country and also from outside countries, so doctors recommend having a flu shot irrespective of the time of year, because getting immune at the earliest is very important.

Other preventive measures that can be taken by children alongside flu shots is to stay away from people who are sick, wash their hands frequently, avoid touching your eyes and mouth, continue to wear masks in public places and social distancing.

It is very important and necessary for the parents to take care of their children during this pandemic because a little carelessness can result in getting them sick. Considering the country’s condition where every day there is a rise in COVID cases, it’s preferred to take care of your children at home and get the flu shot at the earliest possible. A flu shot can definitely cut the risk of catching infection and also save kids from hospitalisation at this critical juncture when it is important to save resources for people in need.

(The writer is Consultant Paediatrician & Neonatologist, Motherhood Hospitals, Hebbal, Bangalore.)

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