November 27, 2023

Ask a Doctor: What You Should Know About Flu, COVID-19, and RSV Vaccines for Kids

Dr. Jessica Reggi shares everything you need to know about vaccines and immunizations to stay protected during the respiratory virus season.

Young girl high fives healthcare provider after getting vaccinated.

The winter season is upon us, and many of us are planning gatherings with loved ones to celebrate. However, this time of year is also when respiratory viruses surge, which can lead to illnesses in both children and adults. Now commonly referred to as the “tripledemic,” flu (influenza), COVID-19, and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) infections are expected to increase this winter.

The most effective way to ensure you and your child are protected against serious illness is to get up to date on vaccinations. Jessica Reggi, D.O., National Advisor, Whole Child Health at Healthier Generation, is here to share everything you need to know about the respiratory virus season, including the latest information on flu, COVID-19, and RSV vaccines for your child. (And remember: You can also prevent RSV, COVID-19 and flu by washing your hands frequently, coughing into a tissue or sleeve, and avoiding touching your face!)

Q: As we head into winter, what do parents and caregivers need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine?

Dr. Reggi: The CDC recommends that anyone 6 months of age and older receive the 2023-2024 updated COVID-19 vaccine to protect against serious illness. This vaccine is now commonly available in pharmacies and doctors’ offices. While you could still test positive for COVID-19 and/or feel sick if you’ve received the vaccine, you are less likely to be severely ill or require hospital care.

Dr. Jessica Reggi

Children 6 months to 4 years of age need multiple doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, including at least one dose of the updated COVID-19 vaccine. Children aged 5 and older should get one dose of the updated COVID-19 vaccine to protect against serious illness.

For example, my toddler got two doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during the summer of 2022 to protect her at daycare, and she just recently received one dose of the updated Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at her check-up.

Q: Why is it important to vaccinate against both COVID-19 and flu?

Dr. Reggi: COVID-19 and flu are two different viruses, and there are separate vaccines to protect people against each of them. Children under 5 and those with chronic medical conditions are at greater risk for flu-related complications, like pneumonia, ear infections, and dehydration. Catching COVID-19 or flu can lead to missed school, childcare disruptions, doctors’ appointments, and even ER visits and hospitalizations.

The CDC recommends vaccinating children 6 months of age and older against flu as well as COVID-19. This is the best way to protect children against serious illness and hospitalization related to these illnesses.

Q: Can children receive the COVID-19 and flu vaccines at the same time?

Dr. Reggi: According to the CDC, it’s safe for children to receive multiple vaccines during one medical visit. The goal is to achieve protection for the current respiratory viral season, which typically starts in September, peaks from December through February, and ends in May. There is research to suggest getting multiple vaccines at once may increase the likelihood of mild side effects such as arm pain, headache, and fatigue, but these are not serious and do not last long.

It’s especially important to get vaccinated before travel and holiday festivities where groups of people may be gathered, increasing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 or flu.

Q: What is RSV and who is eligible to receive the RSV vaccine?

Dr. Reggi: RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) can cause cold symptoms as well as breathing problems, particularly in young children and infants. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, RSV is the most common cause of hospitalizations for children under 1 year of age. The RSV “vaccine” (which is actually an antibody) is currently only available for infants, pregnant people, and the elderly. While it is approved for infants under 8 months of age (and some at-risk children up to 19 months of age), access is limited by a nationwide shortage. Reach out to your medical provider to find out if your child is eligible for RSV protection.

Q: How can schools help ensure students are up to date on vaccines?

Dr. Reggi: Vaccines help children stay healthy, avoid missed learning time, and protect the students and teachers around them. Visiting the doctor for regular medical check-ups is a great way to get questions answered and stay on schedule with recommended vaccinations.  

School nurses and school health services staff are another helpful source of information on vaccine-preventable illnesses and options for getting vaccinated. Districts may provide school-based health centers, host on-site vaccine clinics, or partner with local public health departments and pharmacies to make getting vaccinated easy and convenient for families.  

Q: What about those who have concerns about the overall efficacy or safety of childhood vaccines?

Dr. Reggi: Vaccines are continuously evaluated for safety! They must go through three phases of FDA clinical trials to ensure they are safe. Multiple groups of experts (the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the CDC) must then review and approve them for use. There is also a system called VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) that caregivers and medical providers can use to report vaccine reactions.

To learn more about vaccine safety, visit Vaccinate Your Family. If you have any remaining questions, talk to your child’s pediatrician, school nurse, or your local health department.

Thank you, Dr. Reggi! Learn more about routine and recommended childhood vaccinations and download resources at Healthier Generation’s Vaccine Resource Hub.

Nicole Blanton

Manager, Culturally Responsive Communications | Alliance for a Healthier Generation