The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges everyone, including children over 6 months of age, to get the annual influenza, or flu, vaccine.

The flu vaccine is even more important during the 2020-2021 flu season to prevent the healthcare system – busy with the coronavirus epidemic -- from becoming overwhelmed. Two-thirds of almost 2,000 American parents surveyed said they plan to get their child a flu shot this year, according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, in Michigan.

But how about parents who do not normally get their child a flu shot? Are they heeding the CDC’s advice? Medical Daily spoke to two parents who stand by their decision not to get their child the annual flu vaccine.

Parents weigh in

E.L. told Medical Daily that her 12-year-old son does not get the flu shot. She was advised several years ago by his pediatrician that “he would be better off if he just gets [the flu] on his own and builds that immunity.”

M.P. has 3 children still at home, ages 15, 11 and 2, and while she isn’t anti-vaccine, she does have strong feelings about the annual flu vaccine. “People should get to choose what they put in their body,” M.P. said.

Robert Ferrall, MD, a pediatrician in North Carolina, told Medical Daily that he is not seeing parents decline the flu shot for their child if they have received the flu shot in past years. But Medical Daily spoke to one mom who decided not to vaccinate her 22-month-old child this year. R.H. questions the efficacy of the flu vaccine and said, “We are passing on the flu vaccine because we aren’t leaving the house.”

On the other hand, Medical Daily also talked to some parents who are making sure their children get the vaccine, even if they didn’t get one last year.

J.T. said her boys, ages 10 and 14, did not get a flu shot last year. She tried visiting two pharmacies, but one was closed and the other had a long line for the vaccine. After those options fell through, it “just didn’t get done,” she said. J.T. plans to work harder this year to get her kids vaccinated. She feels that if her boys came down with the flu this year, they may be more likely to get the COVID-19 virus.

J.W. talked about how hard it is to get flu shots for her 5 children, who range in age from 7 to 16. Last year, she and her husband got their flu shots at work, but J.W. couldn’t get all the kids to the doctor’s office at the same time, so some of them missed out on the vaccine. She is determined to get all of her kids vaccinated this year, saying, “I wouldn’t want them getting the flu on top of COVID.”

S.O.’s family, including her newborn and 2-year-old-son, has been in isolation since the pandemic started. She told Medical Daily, “I … never really worried about getting the flu vaccine until I had kids.” Her son received the flu vaccine last year, and she plans for him to get it again this year. If the flu is still around when her newborn reaches 6 months of age, she’ll make sure he gets the flu vaccine, too.

Advice from a pediatrician

So, how many parents who decided not to get their child vaccinated last year are changing their minds? Only 28%, according to the Mott poll results.

Dr. Ferrall said that his clinic is seeing only a small increase in flu shots for children who did not receive the vaccine in the past. If a quarter of these children were vaccinated, “I’d be pretty happy,” he said. “I know it seems low ... but it would be helping.”

“Although we don’t have a coronavirus vaccine yet, we do have a perfectly good flu vaccine, and if we can keep influenza under control, that’s going to help … kids stay healthy,” said Dr. Ferrall. Because the symptoms of influenza and coronavirus can be similar, he said, children with flu symptoms will need to be evaluated for both viruses and then isolated until it is known if they have COVID-19.

Dr. Ferrall also wants to remind parents that, with schools reopening, children could be more likely to “transfer infections, including influenza and COVID. Although COVID is on the front of everybody’s mind now, there are still certainly other infections out there, and influenza is a very serious infection that is potentially [preventable with a vaccine].”

The take-home

The CDC says the flu vaccine is even more important during the 2020-2021 flu season to prevent the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed. If you have concerns about getting the flu vaccine for your child, you should talk with your pediatrician. The CDC recommends that everyone get the flu shot before the end of October, although you can get it anytime during the flu season.