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Doctors emphasize importance of flu shot for children amid COVID-19 pandemic

“With the pandemic this year, it puts an extra layer of concern across the Chicagoland area,” said Dr. Frank Belmonte, chief medical officer at Advocate Children’s Hospital.

Doctors from the Chicagoland Children’s Health Alliance met virtually Thursday morning to share the importance for children to get the flu shot by the end of October.
Doctors from the Chicagoland Children’s Health Alliance met virtually Thursday to discuss importance of children get the flu shot by the end of October.
Courtesy of Advocate Aurora Health

If a global pandemic wasn’t hard enough, try adding the seasonal flu.

Doctors from the Chicagoland Children’s Health Alliance, a system of pediatric experts, met virtually Thursday to share the importance for children to get a flu shot by the end of October, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With the pandemic this year, it puts an extra layer of concern across the Chicagoland area,” said Dr. Frank Belmonte, co-chief medical officer of CCHA and chief medical officer at Advocate Children’s Hospital.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 188 flu-related deaths were reported among children under the age of 18 during the 2019-2020 flu season. Illinois has seen more than 250,000 positive cases of COVID and over 8,000 deaths.

Dr. Michael Caplan, co-chief medical officer of CCHA and a pediatric doctor at NorthShore University Healthsystem, said going into the fall months means doctors will see patients with both the coronavirus and the flu.

And because of COVID, Belmonte said there may be differences in how to get the flu shot this year due to social distancing guidelines, including calling ahead to schedule an appointment instead of walk-in clinics.

Caplan said the best way to for someone to know how and where to get the flu vaccine would be to call their pediatrician’s office.

A way to possibly tell the difference between the two infections is that symptoms such as fever, aches, vomiting and diarrhea tend to be more common with children who have COVID than the flu, Caplan said. Even so, he added the only way to truly differentiate the two is to get specific tests for each virus.

“We know that both flu and COVID spread by droplets,” Caplan said. “So social distancing and wearing masks are really important for preventing both of these infections.”

For both COVID and the flu, Caplan said the complications that come with both infections are similar: pneumonia, respiratory failure, inflamed hearts, brains or muscles.

However, he said COVID has been associated with a unique complication called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, where various body parts can become inflamed.

Dr. John Cunningham, CCHA co-chief and chair of the pediatrics department at Comer Children’s Hospital, suggested ways parents should protect their children during the upcoming flu season:

  • Children over 6 months old should get the flu shot before Halloween
  • Children younger than 9 years old get two doses of the vaccine
  • Every adults in a household gets vaccinated

“We know that these precautions work to slow the spread of the disease,” Cunningham said. “And that’s why as medical leaders across the Chicagoland Children’s Health Alliance, we are recommending them strongly.”

As Chicagoans enter the fall season amid a global pandemic, Belmonte said doctors have “no idea” what the numbers will look like among those who will contract both COVID and the flu.

“We’ve never had a simultaneous pandemic and flu season,” Belmonte said. “So this year, we’ll be learning as we go along.”