COLUMBIA, MO. (KTVI) — A pediatrician wants parents to know the flu vaccine could protect your child from lifelong complications from coronavirus.
Dr. Anjali Patwardhan is a pediatric rheumatologist at the University of Missouri Women’s and Children’s Hospitals. For the past year, she’s been studying COVID-19 in children. She said enough people don’t understand that children can contract the virus.
“That is the wrong conception, that they don’t have so many cases in children,” Patwardhan said. “That’s why people don’t take it seriously.” She said nearly one-third of the population of U.S. children have had COVID-19.
Since the pandemic started, Patwardhan has studied nearly 1,000 children under the age of 20 for her research. She has found the flu vaccine lowers the odds of COVID-19 symptoms. “It doesn’t prevent you from having COVID, but most patients who are vaccinated were less likely to be symptomatic,” Patwardhan said. “They had less serious disease and they were mostly asymptotic for those vaccinated in the same flu year.”
Lately, COVID-19 cases are decreasing, but she’s seeing a rise in an autoimmune disease called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, known as MISC. “That disease occurs because your own immune system that’s stimulated by the virus, the virus is gone, but your immune system continues to attack your own body,” Patwardhan said. “If you did not have symptomatic COVID when you were exposed, you can still get MISC.”
Patwardhan said out of the cases she has studied, COVID-19 has left children with long-term effects, like heart conditions and blood clots, that can cause strokes. “We have seen a varied kind of skin diseases because of COVID,” Patwardhan said. “Skin diseases in the sense of different kinds of rashes. I think 30 to 40% of symptomatic children had eye disease and 10% of children got a special lesion in their brain. They’ve hallucinated, [had] seizures and disorientation.”
MISC is also caused by COVID, but they still don’t know how long it can affect a child. “Whether it will last for your life, I don’t know that answer because we haven’t been there,” Patwardhan said. “We’ve only known this disease for the past year.”
Patwardhan said MISC has a high mortality rate and, for now, doesn’t have a cure. “MISC is a disease where right now, we don’t know whether you can get vaccinated,” she said. “It is an immune disease and by vaccination, you can stir the immunity and make that disease worse.”
While doctors continue to study the virus, her best advice to parents is to make sure their child has received a recent flu shot. Patwardhan said flu season starts in September and lasts through April. Even if your child hasn’t received a flu shot yet, she said it’s still not too late.
This year more than ever, she wants parents to know it’s important to get a vaccine. “In this period, until the last day, you should get vaccinated,” Patwardhan said.