Originally published in The Tennessean, October 2020
Parents have spent the majority of 2020 taking steps to protect themselves and their children from COVID-19, all while balancing work, life and education, many from home. With a complicated start to the school year and a pandemic that is persistently lingering, many families are simply exhausted.
With flu season upon us, vigilance is more important than ever. The flu severely impacts children every year, and the flu vaccine is a necessary preventive step.
Vaccines have been proven safe and effective for decades, and most individuals who receive the flu vaccine either avoid contracting the virus or have a milder case if they do. While the severity of the flu varies year to year, studies have shown a flu shot can reduce the likelihood of catching the flu by 40-60%.
That reduction is crucial when considering the flu’s impact nationwide. During the 2019-2020 season, more than 60,000 Americans are estimated to have died as a result of influenza.
Tennessee is certainly not immune.
In our state alone, 11 children died from the flu during the 2019-2020 season, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.
Each year some schools close due to the volume of kids who get the flu, as it easily spreads via droplets that result from coughing, sneezing and even talking. COVID-19 has mandated creative solutioning to allow children to return school safely. Limiting the spread of the flu can help prevent further disruptions and challenges.
5 tips for speaking with your children about the flu shot
Of course, generally speaking, kids will be kids. Many will push back against needing a shot, especially if they don’t feel sick. As parents and caregivers, there are practical steps we can take to talk to our kids about the flu and help alleviate their fears.
1. Prepare them for the experience.
Be honest that it might hurt. Tell them they can turn away and either close their eyes tight, or make eye contact with you as you tell them it will be over very quickly. Consider letting them hold your hand tightly, as well. If your child has a severe fear of needles, see if the flu vaccine given as a nasal spray is an option.
2. Stress that they must continue keeping a safe distance from others.
This will be difficult, as kids want a sense of normalcy and to engage with their friends. But remind them that even if they’re wearing masks, they should continue to practice social distancing measures, especially if around friends or loved ones who aren’t feeling well.
3. Cough and sneeze into a tissue.
A runny nose does not automatically mean the flu or COVID-19, as colds and allergies are common at this time of year. To exercise caution, encourage your child to carry a pocket-sized packet of tissues, and if they can’t get to them in time, to cough or sneeze “vampire-style” into their arm.
4. Wash hands with soap and warm water.
Even if you’ve drilled this into your kids’ minds, make sure they do this often, for 15-20 seconds at a time. Set a good example by doing this yourself.
5. Encourage honesty and questions.
Your kids should feel comfortable telling you how they feel, whether it’s anxiety or experiencing symptoms that could be the flu.
Before getting the vaccine, set aside time to discuss where you’re going, what will happen, and why being scared is okay.
Your children can walk away from these discussions knowing that by taking simple steps, they can be heroes and not spreaders, and play a part in something that’s bigger than themselves — helping keep their friends and families healthy.