Flu season last year was rather forgettable because it didn’t really happen. With more families largely staying home, the virus had few opportunities to spread. But the downside of extended sheltering at home is that many people now have lower immunity to the flu than at the start of most flu seasons. With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, medical experts are concerned this fall and winter could be memorable for the wrong reasons.
Thankfully, your child can greatly reduce the risk of serious illness by receiving COVID and flu vaccines in one sitting. If they’re eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine (currently ages 12 and older), all they have to do is roll up both sleeves. Now, getting a shot in each arm might give your child pause, but two infectious disease specialists at Boston Children’s Hospital say that a double inoculation shouldn’t be a concern. A recent study by several U.K. universities raised no safety concerns and showed no diminishment of the efficacy — basically, the immune response — of either vaccine.
How could this flu season be more worrisome than previous ones?
“Most flu seasons, people have some degree of immunity when they get infected,” says Dr. Kristin Moffitt, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Boston Children’s. “The concern coming into this flu season is there is a lower baseline of immunity than in prior flu seasons.”
Indeed, masking and social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have led to “modest” flu virus activity since March 2020, potentially putting many people at risk for a severe case of the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Is it safe to get COVID and flu vaccines at the same time?
Yes, it is safe to receive both, according to the U.K. study. The study evaluated adults who had received a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine with either a flu shot or a placebo. It found that getting the flu and COVID shots together did not affect immune responses to either vaccine.
And though children were not included in the study, Dr. Moffitt says parents should find comfort that side effects were generally mild and similar between the groups of adults receiving the COVID shot alone or with a flu shot. The most common side effects were fatigue, muscle aches, and soreness at the injection sites.
It’s also worth noting the flu vaccines used in the U.K. study are similar to the vaccines that will be administered this year in the U.S., Dr. Moffitt says. Lastly, it might be assuring for parents to consider that most children have been receiving multiple vaccinations — including those for bacteria such as pneumococcus and pertussis and viruses such as hepatitis B and influenza — in one sitting since infancy. “There’s a decades-long history of doing that safely,” she says. “So, we’re relying on historical experience, but it’s reassuring at the same time to have a study like this.”
What if my child balks at getting two shots in one sitting?
If they haven’t done so, the opportunity is still there for teenagers to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, in addition to a flu vaccine, says Dr. Melanie Dubois, a Boston Children’s pediatric infectious disease specialist. If they’re nervous about possible side effects, she says, you can tell your teen that any discomfort is only temporary and a sign that the body is working to protect them from the virus.
COVID and flu vaccines can have similar side effects, including local symptoms such as pain, redness, and swelling at the site of the injection, as well as generalized symptoms such as headache, muscle aches, and fatigue. “Ultimately, you’re trying to prevent something more serious,” Dr. Dubois says. “You can tell them it’s an important step to prevent illness from both diseases and keep them healthy.”
Dr. Moffitt adds that parents can frame the vaccinations as another milestone on a path back to normalcy. “First, it was safe to go back to school. Maybe someday it will be life again without masks. All of these steps are to keep ourselves healthy and to resume doing the activities we enjoy.”
When should your child receive the vaccinations?
If they haven’t yet had a COVID-19 vaccination, they can get one now or as soon as they’re eligible. Dr. Dubois urges parents to get their children vaccinated against the flu by the end of October. “Time is of the essence. It’s worth getting the shot now to protect ourselves, our family, and our community this fall and winter.”
For more insight and advice about keeping your family safe from COVID-19, visit our “parenting resources” page.
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