FILE - In this Feb. 7, 2018 file photo, a nurse prepares a flu shot at the Salvation Army in Atlanta. The U.S. winter flu season is off to its earliest start in more than 15 years. An early barrage of illness in the South has begun to spread more broadly, and there’s a decent chance flu season could peak much earlier than normal, health officials say. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Pediatricians are suggesting children receive their annual influenza vaccines by the end of October to best protect them this season and prevent overwhelming hospitals.

The American Academy of Pediatrics made the recommendation recently for all children older than 6 months old. Dr. Heather Felton, a pediatrician at Norton Children’s Germantown, agreed, because this flu season has extra risks.

“Usually, we see it start to pick up around September, October, and go through the spring," Felton said. "But this year is more complicated, because we have COVID to think about in addition to the flu."

Typical symptoms of the flu — including fever, muscle aches and fatigue — can be very similar to those for the novel coronavirus.

“Everybody who ends up with the flu is probably going to get a COVID test, too," Felton said. "It means they’re going to be out of school. Parents have to stay home with them from work. You’re going to be asked to quarantine."

With more schools attempting to begin in-person classes, the flu could spread quickly if children aren’t vaccinated. The influenza vaccine is not a guarantee prevention, but it can minimize how severe the flu might be if someone still catches it.

Timing the flu vaccine is important to allow the body time to build up immunity. Felton said it takes a couple weeks for the vaccine to take effect, so waiting until late this fall would mean immunity would not be established until well into the flu season.

She said cildren’s bodies need all the help they can get, especially this year. Without the added complication of COVID-19, thousands of children are hospitalized because of the flu and complications every year. Last year, nearly 200 kids died from the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“A lot of what I hear every year is, ‘Oh, we don’t get the flu. Our family just never does it,’ " Felton said. "We are all waiting for a vaccine for COVID, but we already have a vaccine for influenza. And if we could prevent one of these illnesses, even if you say you’ve never gotten the flu vaccine before, I think this is the year to really consider it."

Since symptoms are so similar between the flu and the coronavirus, doctors are concerned it could lead to more patients filling doctors’ offices and hospitals this fall and winter.

“I worry about our emergency rooms getting overwhelmed, the immediate care centers getting overwhelmed, and then hospital beds as well,” Felton said.

Reach out to your doctor or local pharmacy for scheduling a flu shot. The first time a child ever gets a flu shot, he or she will need to get two doses, four weeks apart.

Copyright 2020 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.