By: Dr. Joseph Mechak and Dr. Emily Atwood
A plug for the flu vaccine
During the first year of daycare we expect that children contract somewhere between 8 and 12 viral infections. This is partly from them “learning to share” with their daycare classmates but also, in large part, is due to an immature immune system that has not yet developed a defense system against these common daycare viruses. Before the pandemic, adults and older kids had built up these defense systems from prior viral exposures and were better able to defend against infection. This year, however, you have noticed that you and your older children are falling ill at a greater clip than previous years. I postulate that this is because our immune systems got a little complacent during the pandemic. During quarantine and periods of heavy mask use we were exposed to fewer viruses, got sick less often, and in turn, our immune systems lowered their defenses. This fall, as masks have come off, school is back in full swing, birthday parties have resumed, etc. and our immune systems are being caught a bit off guard. For these reasons, this year we may all get sick like it is our first year of daycare.
Common colds are a nuisance but there are some viruses out there that can lead to significant illness (and worse) if our immune system is caught napping. One that we are specifically concerned about most years – but this year more than ever – is Influenza (the flu). There has been almost no flu season to speak of over the past three years. With the amount of illness that we have seen already from routine viral infections, I do worry that this could be the most impactful flu season in quite some time. Further, countries in the southern hemisphere have reported early and severe flu seasons which are often a good predictor of our own. We have already started to see cases of the flu in the office and have had more than a few hospitalizations already this season.
This year more than most, we need to help our immune system bolster its defenses and prepare for the upcoming flu season. The best way to do this is with a flu vaccine. Flu vaccines are available for all children 6 months and older. The yearly flu vaccine decreases your child’s risk of catching the flu, but more importantly, reduces their risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death from the flu.
Flu season is already here so we strongly urge everyone 6mo and older to get their flu shot ASAP!
(As an aside – This immune system reboot is certainly one of many unintended consequences of the quarantine period during the pandemic. There are risks and benefits associated with any intervention in medicine – the COVID-19 lockdown included. Despite these downstream effects, at a point in the pandemic where we did not have vaccines or therapeutics, and were running short on critical resources, the benefits of the lockdown certainly outweigh these unintended consequences.)
COVID bivalent boosters for children 5 and older!
On October 12th the FDA and CDC both cleared and recommended the Pfizer and Moderna bivalent vaccines for use in children as young as 5 years old (Pfizer down to 5 years old, Moderna down to 6 years old). The criteria for these bivalent boosters is the same as for older age groups: children must have received a primary series of the original monovalent vaccine and it must be 2 months or more from the most recent vaccine (primary series or booster). In a blog last month, we spent a lot of time explaining how this new bivalent vaccine is different from the original, why it is important, and how it was studied/ approved. All of the same is true for these younger age groups, so check out the previous blog here to learn more!
The FDA released the following statement after the vaccine approval today “Since children have gone back to school in person and people are resuming pre-pandemic behaviors and activities, there is the potential for increased risk of exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19,” FDA Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research Director Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., said in a press release. “Vaccination remains the most effective measure to prevent the severe consequences of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death.”
Some additional helpful resources about the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine can be found here:.
- Potomac Pediatrics Bivalent Booster
- FDA Bivalent Booster Press Release
- AAP Bivalent Booster Press Release
- CDC Bivalent Booster Press Release
We STRONGLY recommend that your children stay up to date with ALL of their vaccines. This includes their routine vaccines, yearly flu vaccines, and COVID boosters!