With changes in weather and the return to school and other indoor activities, fall is predictably a time when more children have viral respiratory illnesses.
Clinicians at Oregon Health & Science University say the best thing parents can do to prevent the spread of coughs, sore throats, fevers and other symptoms is to stay up to date on all vaccines. They also urge families to continue to practice the same health and hygiene habits they became well versed in over the past several years: Keep sick kids home from school and events, avoid contact with anyone who is sick and wash hands frequently.
"Vaccination is a safe, simple and highly effective way to help keep your kids healthy,” says Ben Hoffman, M.D., professor of pediatrics and medical director of the Tom Sargent Safety Center at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. “Last year, we saw a devastating number of children hospitalized with respiratory illnesses. Vaccines are one of the best tools we have to prevent severe illness in kids, and for everyone in the community. We all want to do our part to protect our families and communities.”
For more information about vaccines that can protect against respiratory illness, see answers to some commonly asked questions below.
Questions and answers
Why should I vaccinate my child?
Children are born with amazing immune systems that can fight most germs, but some viruses and bacteria can cause especially serious or even deadly diseases. Vaccines help the immune system make antibodies that specifically protect children from contracting diseases, and they also reduce the risk of severe illness if they do. Think about vaccines like you think about security updates for your phone or computer: They are like security updates for your immune system.
Vaccines not only protect your child and family; they also help prevent the spread of illness to your friends, loved ones and community.
Vaccines are very safe and effective, and they help prevent severe diseases. All vaccines are given to children only after extensive testing and review by scientists, clinicians and health care professionals.
What vaccines are recommended this year?
Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, and American Academy of Pediatrics, known as AAP, recommend children receive a flu vaccination every flu season, which lasts from fall to early spring. Flu season typically peaks between December and February. Flu vaccines for kids are widely available now.
Additionally, it is recommended everyone 6 months and older get a COVID-19 vaccine. Kids 5 and older should get one updated COVID-19 vaccine — previously known as a “booster” — at least two months after getting the last dose of any COVID-19 vaccine. An updated COVID-19 vaccine, which targets more recent strains of the virus, will be available for kids in October.
Of course, there are other childhood vaccines that will be given by your pediatrician at well-child visits, according to the standard immunization schedule.
Will my child experience side effects after receiving a vaccine?
For any vaccine, very mild side effects are normal and indicate that your child’s immune system is building the proper response to the vaccine; most are minor and resolve within a few days. Common side effects include tiredness, headaches, low-grade fever — meaning generally less than 100 degrees — and some tenderness at the injection site. For symptoms that are severe or last 72 hours or more, contact your child’s pediatrician.
When and where do I schedule a vaccine appointment?
Vaccines can take several weeks to build full immunity, so with fall quickly approaching, families are urged to schedule vaccine appointments for their children as soon as possible.
Vaccines can be administered through your primary care provider. If that is not possible, you might contact your local county health department or community health center -- all should be covered by insurance. For children 7 or older, many pharmacies will give flu and COVID vaccines.
Parents may worry about “overloading” their child’s immune system, but that’s really nothing to worry about: Kids’ immune systems will have no problem receiving multiple vaccinations in one visit. If it’s convenient, feel free to bundle routine vaccinations during your child’s checkup or annual wellness visit.
To find vaccination locations near you, go to the Oregon Health Authority’s Get Vaccinated Oregon website.
What should I know about the new vaccine for RSV?
This year, the CDC has approved a new drug that can protect infants from Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV. The drug, Beyfortus (nirsevimab) — also recommended by the AAP — is a long-acting monoclonal antibody given by injection and is tremendously effective in preventing severe disease from RSV.
All infants who will be younger than 8 months at the beginning of RSV season, which is usually Oct. 1, and all babies born between October and April, should receive a single dose of Beyfortus (nirsevimab). The drug will be especially important for infants born prematurely or those with other medical issues, especially those at high risk of severe disease from RSV.
Experts expect Beyfortus to become available in health care settings sometime this fall. However, as with any new product, it will not be immediately available in all clinical settings. The AAP and others have expressed concern about distribution and emphasized the need for equity, ensuring it’s available and affordable in all communities.
In Oregon, the timing and logistics of the availability of Beyfortus aren’t certain, but OHSU’s pediatric health experts are engaged in ongoing discussions with state and federal agencies to ensure the rollout is as quick, efficient and equitable as possible. If you have questions or are wondering if your child would be eligible this season, talk to your health care provider.
What else can I do to protect my child from respiratory illnesses?
In addition to staying up to date on vaccinations, the best thing parents and caregivers can do to keep their children healthy and safe this fall and winter is to practice all the measures that were emphasized during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Wear masks in public spaces.
- Avoid contact with those who are sick.
- Keep sick kids home from school and events
- Wash hands frequently.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces.
- Limit infants’ exposure to frequent visitors and crowds, especially if they are at risk for severe illness and/or younger than 12 weeks.