Ann Arbor, MI—
In an action applauded by pharmacy groups, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has authorized licensed pharmacists to provide all vaccines recommended by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and approved or licensed by the FDA to all children aged 3 to 18 years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The HHS guidance applies regardless of state laws and regulations to the contrary. Yet other trends might be reducing the number of children who actually get recommended vaccinations.

A report from Michigan Medicine points out that influenza season will be especially complex this year because the COVID-19 pandemic continues with a virus that has symptoms similar to the flu. A poll conducted by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital found that, despite fervent public health messaging on the importance of people of all ages receiving seasonal flu vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents might not be getting that message.

In fact, the poll reveals that just a third of parents believe that having their child get the flu vaccine is more important this year.

The nationally representative Mott Poll report includes 1,992 responses from parents of children aged 2 to 18 years who were surveyed in August.

“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,” explained Mott Poll codirector Sarah Clark, MPH. “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.”

Unlike with COVID-19, children younger than age 5 years, and especially those younger than age 2 years, are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications than most people.

The poll determined that families who were least likely to get children vaccinated against the flu were those who didn’t do so last year—less than a third of those parents say their child will probably get a flu vaccine this year. Of the parents who said their child got a flu vaccine last year, nearly all (96%) said they plan to have their child get a flu vaccine this year.

“A key challenge for public health officials is how to reach parents who do not routinely seek seasonal flu vaccination for their child,” Clark said. “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.”

One key is whether healthcare providers strongly recommend flu vaccine; when that occurs, vaccine uptake is much higher, according to the authors. Yet fewer than half of parents say their child’s regular healthcare provider strongly recommends that their child get the flu vaccine this year, according to the poll.

Clark suggested that might be because many child health providers have limited the number of patients seen for in-person visits, with increased use of telehealth visits. There simply might not have been the opportunity to discuss flu vaccination, she adds.

The Michigan team urged child health providers to use alternative ways to emphasize the importance of pediatric flu vaccination, including reminder postcards or website banners.

So, why aren’t parents taking their children get flu shots? Here are some reasons, according to the poll:
• The most common reasons include concerns about side effects or beliefs that the vaccine isn’t necessary or effective
• Another 14% of parents said they will not seek the flu vaccine because they are keeping children away from healthcare sites due to the risk of COVID exposure, according to the Mott Poll
• Nine percent of parents also say their child is afraid of needles or does not want to the get flu vaccine, which prevents them from scheduling an immunization

Intent to get flu vaccine for their children also is slightly lower this year for parents of teens compared with those younger (73% for children ages 2 to 4 years, 70% for ages 5 to 12 years, and 65% for ages 13 to 18 years).

Clark points out that many retail pharmacies are also expanding their flu-vaccine services to children during the pandemic.

“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,” Clark emphasized.

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