One in three parents will skip their child’s flu shot this year
One in three parents plan to skip the flu shot for their children this year, according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at Michigan Medicine. The findings come at a critical point during the COVID-19 pandemic, when public health experts are emphasizing the importance of seasonal flu vaccinations for people of all ages.
“We may see peaks of flu and COVID-19 at the same time, which could overwhelm the health care system, strain testing capacity and potentially reduce our ability to catch and treat both respiratory illnesses effectively,” said poll co-director Sarah Clark.
“Our report finds that even during the pandemic, some parents don’t see the flu vaccine as more urgent or necessary. This heightens concerns about how the onset of flu season may compound challenges in managing COVID-19.”
According to the CDC, the flu has caused up to 45 million illnesses, 810,000 hospitalizations, and 61,000 deaths a year since 2010. Young children, particularly under the age of two, have an elevated risk of developing serious complications with the flu.
The latest Mott Poll was focused on nearly 2,000 responses from parents of children between the ages of two and 18 in August 2020. The families who are least likely to get their children vaccinated against the flu are those who did not do so last year.
“A key challenge for public health officials is how to reach parents who do not routinely seek seasonal flu vaccination for their child,” said Clark. “When getting a yearly flu vaccine is not a pattern, parents need to be prompted to think about why it’s essential for their child to get vaccinated.”
The poll suggests that families whose doctor strongly recommends the flu shot are more likely to get their children vaccinated. However, less than half of parents say their child’s regular health care provider strongly recommends that their child get the flu vaccine this year.
This may be due to the impact of COVID-19 on the health care delivery system, as many child health providers have limited the number of patients seen for in-person visits, said Clark. An increase in telehealth visits may miss the opportunity for doctors to thoroughly discuss flu vaccinations this year.
Among the 32 percent of parents who report their child is unlikely to get a flu vaccine this year, the most common reasons include concerns about side effects and the belief that the shot is unnecessary.
Experts say these notions are often based on misconceptions, and that the flu vaccine offers the best protection against contracting the virus and potentially developing severe flu-related illness.
“There is a lot of misinformation about the flu vaccine, but it is the best defense for children against serious health consequences of influenza and the risk of spreading it to others,” said Clark.
According to the survey, 14 percent of parents will not seek the flu shot because they are keeping children away from health care sites due to the risk of COVID-19 exposure.
“Most child health providers have made changes to their office environment to keep children safe during office visits and vaccinations,” said Clark. “Parents who are concerned about COVID exposure should contact their child’s provider to learn about what types of precautions have been put in place.”
During the pandemic, the overall rate of childhood vaccinations dropped significantly. Children are falling behind on vaccinations for diseases like measles and pertussis.
Experts emphasize that the flu vaccine will help limit the stress on health care systems during the pandemic by reducing the number of flu-related doctor visits and hospitalizations.
“Children should get the flu vaccine not only to protect themselves but to prevent the spread of influenza to family members and those who are at higher risk of serious complications,” said Clark.