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National Flu Expert Urges Utahns To Vaccinate Children

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — A national pediatric flu expert at Primary Children’s Hospital is urging parents to get their kids vaccinated now as flu season arrives.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control recommend everyone six months of age and older get a flu vaccine before the end of the month. Last year was the longest flu season in a decade and officials said children can be especially vulnerable to the flu.

“You don’t want to be scared, but you also don’t want to put it off,” said Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of pediatric infectious disease at the University of Utah and Primary Children’s Hospital.

Paiva said it’s tough to predict the severity of a flu season, but it’s always important to be prepared with a flu vaccine.

“I think we always anticipate a bad season because flu is always pretty bad even when it’s relatively modest,” he said.

Currently, there’s not a lot of influenza activity here in Utah or across the country. But last year was a very long flu season and two years ago was the deadliest on record. That’s why Pavia urges everyone to get a flu shot before the end of the month, especially kids.

“It’s one of the cheapest, easiest, most effective preventive measures you can actually do,“ he said.

The influenza vaccine is available at Primary Children’s Hospital, many grocery stores, pharmacies, doctor’s offices and many schools this time of year.

Pavia said flu vaccines are a lot like wearing a seatbelt — a preventive measure that can save lives, even if the vaccine is only 50% effective most years.

“Of the roughly 200 kids who die every year of flu, half of them are perfectly healthy kids who had nothing wrong with them,” Pavia said.

Nationally, as many as 30% of unvaccinated children get the flu. As many as 45,000 are hospitalized, and as many as 282 have died in a single year.

Here in Utah, less than 56% of kids got their flu shot last year. According to the Utah Department of Health, nearly 73% of children from six months to four years old were vaccinated last year, but those numbers drop to 45% by the time Utah kids are teenagers.

Washing your hands and other precautions with germs may lower your risk of catching the flu, but the most effective method of prevention is still the flu vaccine.

“It’s easy, it’s safe and it’s a pretty big benefit,” Pavia said.

FluMist is also safe and effective this year and a good option for kids who are squeamish about shots.

The Utah Department of Health said there are plenty of vaccines available so far this year.