Pediatrician Calls This Season's Flu Vaccine The Most Important Of Our Lives
By Diane Arnaout, M.D.
Well…there’s no doubt about it. 2020 is going down in the record books as a real dumpster fire of a year.
We have a new enemy. The novel coronavirus has slithered its unpredictable and sometimes deadly tentacles into every aspect of our lives.
But I’m not here to talk about the new enemy.
I’m here to talk about a well-known OLD enemy. Influenza. The grandfather of respiratory illness. The master of the mutation game, he comes back every year to infect us. And sometimes unpredictably, he can kill.
I’m here to tell you why this is the most important year yet to get your flu vaccine.
Let’s take a second to learn why I choose to vaccinate my family each year:
- Our goals for the flu shot are not to NOT catch the flu (although it is estimated to prevent 5+ million cases of flu in the United States each year). It is to avoid potentially devastating flu-related illness and death.
- The flu shot has been shown to reduce influenza-related deaths by 51% in kids with underlying health conditions and 65% in healthy kids.
- The flu shot has been shown to reduce flu hospitalization of pregnant women by 40%.
- The vaccine reduces hospitalization and death for those with cardiac disease, diabetes, and chronic lung disease.
- The flu shot reduces overall deaths, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, ICU length of stay, and overall duration of hospitalization among hospitalized flu patients. (Sources for these statistics are at bottom of article)
Okay, the science is there, obviously. The flu shot is an effective way to try to not get really, really sick with the flu.
Why is it so important this year? Well, if you haven’t noticed, a new villain is in town.
In 2020, the novel coronavirus (as of the date this was written) has infected over 5 million Americans, and has killed over 167,000 Americans.
During the 2019-2020 flu season, 39-56 million Americans were infected, 400-700K were hospitalized, and there were 24-62,000 deaths related to the flu.
Look at these numbers. They’re huge. What happens when we add them up? Things start looking very grim.
Remember those hospital beds and ventilator numbers we’re keeping an eye on? They get used, in large quantities, by flu patients every winter. Especially vulnerable are older and younger people, and people with underlying health conditions. We need those hospital beds. We need the ventilators and staff.
The flu seems to be more deadly to children (as far as we know…let’s remember we’ve not done this whole COVID-19 thing with full classrooms around the country yet). Every year we see kids sickened, hospitalized, and killed by the flu. During the 2019-2020 season, 187 children were killed by the flu. In 2020, COVID-19 has been responsible for the deaths of 49 kids under age 14 (as of 8/8/20).
What happens when you combine influenza and COVID-19 in a community? What happens when people start getting infected with both? The answer is…we don’t know.
The southern hemisphere’s winter happens during our summer, and during their recent flu season, many medical clinics closed, schools closed, and travel and social restrictions were imposed. So knowing how bad the flu season was, and whether or not flu and COVID co-infection creates a monstrous burden of disease, was unable to be studied very accurately under “normal” conditions down there.
In the U.S., we’re opening schools. Winter approaches, and we don’t know what it will bring. COVID-19 is here to stay for awhile, and the flu is coming. There is so much unknown, and so much we can’t control. What we CAN control? Lowering our risk for severe illness, hospitalization, and death by getting a flu shot. It’ll be more important this year than ever before.
My hope is that our newfound love for masks, distancing, and handwashing will lead to a quieter flu season. But unfortunately, season after season, the flu seems to always find a way.
Get to know Diane Arnaout, M.D., a Cook Children's pediatrician at Forest Park
"I didn’t realize how important the job of the pediatrician was until I had kids of my own. My education, experience in medicine, and cocky attitude made me feel like I knew it all before my first one came around. He proceeded to make me very aware of how little I actually knew.
Thankfully he survived, as did the next one, and they’ve helped me to grow and to help YOU, the parent, in so many ways. Sure I’m here to make sure your kids are healthy and happy at all ages. But I’m also here to make sure you’re educated, to make sure your family is thriving, and to make you feel confident in caring for your kids. From diaper rashes to sleep problems to school difficulties - I’m here to help.
I write a lot about common problems and ailments online – you can find me busy on Facebook and Instagram, and I write articles for the Cook Children’s Checkup Newsroom blog. A lot of stuff you’ll hear me say in the office will be typed out on there, too. And we’re in a day and age where the internet helps make connections – you can connect with me on there, or e-mail me anytime.
It takes a village to raise a child – and I’m so grateful to be a part of yours. And as Master Yoda teaches us – “Always pass on what you have learned.” I fully plan to!"