Micayla Johnson is a nurse in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care unit (CVICU) at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. She is studying for a doctorate in nursing practice at the University of Florida.
Quickly acting to intubate and place a child on a ventilator is something a nurse experiences quite often in a pediatric intensive care unit setting, whether it be from non-accidental traumas, congenital heart defects or near-drownings. But watching someone’s brother or a mother’s daughter with “just the flu” deteriorate rapidly, requiring intubation, prompt administration of life-saving medications, and even being placed on a machine that takes over the function of the lungs entirely is something I never want to see as a pediatric nurse. Before becoming a nurse, I viewed the flu as most people do today — a virus that comes around in the fall. If contracted, you may be out of work or school for three to five days, and then you go back to your normal life as though nothing ever happened.
Unfortunately, as I have experienced first-hand, this is not the case for everyone. When I tell people that I am a nurse, they are squeamish mainly about blood and physical trauma that I see. But what, perhaps, they don’t realize is that one of the most disturbing parts of my job is seeing a child who displays no outward trauma but who is sick on the inside from the flu. The most horrific thing I see is watching a virus, so common that it has its own season, cut young lives short, while knowing that it might have been prevented with a simple vaccine that has proven to be safe.
According to the Florida Department of Health’s Influenza Surveillance reports, from December 2019 to March 2020, 13 children died from the flu, with deaths most often occurring in unvaccinated children. Given the status of the COVID-19 pandemic, most Americans have been clinging to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention’s guidelines to mitigate the spread of the disease. So why, year after year, are parents not following, as diligently, the CDC’s recommendations that everyone 6 months and older receive a flu vaccine?
Myths. According to the World Health Organization, one of the most prevalent myths is that the vaccine can give you the flu. This is false because the flu vaccine contains an inactivated virus that cannot give you influenza. Only the flu mist (nasal vaccine) contains any live virus at all, and this virus is so weakened that it cannot give healthy people the flu. Feeling mildly feverish after the vaccination for one to two days may occur due to your body’s natural immune response to the vaccine and is often not a major concern. Also, if you get your flu shot but still come down with the flu, it's usually much less severe than what you would experience without vaccination.
As a nurse, the most trusted profession in the world, I encourage parents out there to read accredited articles, pay attention to the experts who spend their entire lives studying how to prevent harm from illness, and not become consumed with anti-vaccination propaganda. Parents, your child’s life depends on taking every precaution against the flu, including vaccination.
Your family physician, most pharmacies and other stores offer the flu vaccine at reduced prices or even free. It is easy and inexpensive. Mitigation of instances and symptoms of the flu is only possible with herd-immunity. I don’t want to explain to a mother that her child is going to die. I don’t want to do post mortem care on a child overtaken by the flu. But I will have to because the flu is out there and it is real. Let us work toward the goal of no child ever dying from the virus again.