Most Children Who Died From Flu Were Not Vaccinated, CDC Reports

Most children who died from the flu during a recent four-year period were not vaccinated against the virus, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers reported this week. The study, published in Pediatrics, is believed to be the first to conclude that the flu vaccination significantly reduced a child’s risk of dying from influenza, the CDC said.

The researchers found that at least three-quarters of the 358 children, aged 6 months through 17 years, who died from influenza between 2010 and 2014 had not been vaccinated in the months before they were stricken.

Risk of Death Lowered By As Much As Two-Thirds

The data also showed that flu vaccinations lowered the risk of flu-associated death by half among children with underlying high-risk medical conditions and by nearly two-thirds among healthy children.

“This study highlights the importance of annual influenza vaccination for children, especially those with underlying high-risk medical conditions,” the report, authored by the CDC’s Dr. Alicia Fry and colleagues, said. “Because of the higher risk of severe complications and influenza-associated death among children with underlying conditions, vaccination is especially important for these children.”

Since 2004-2005, the number of flu-related deaths in children reported to the CDC during the flu seasons varied from 37 (during 2011-2012) to 171 (during 2012-2013), depending on the severity of the season. So far during this flu season, 61 children have reportedly died from the flu as of March 25, according to the CDC. The typical flu season lasts through April.

Absence of Nasal Spray Vaccine Raised Fears

Pediatricians have been concerned that vaccination rates would fall because the very popular needle-free option — the nasal spray FluMist — is not currently available in the U.S. because of its reported ineffectiveness. The nasal spray form of flu vaccines may be easier to take for many kids, but it has been largely ineffective and was shelved for this flu season after the CDC recommended against its use. FluMist uses live but weakened strains of the flu virus to stimulate the immune system.

Nasal spray flu vaccines accounted for about one-third of all flu vaccines given to children before the current flu season. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supported the CDC’s  recommendation against using the nasal spray vaccine.

Even without the availability of the nasal spray option, “parents should have few concerns about vaccines, which have proven to be widely safe with just minor side effects that happen infrequently,” says Javier Hiriart, M.D., a pediatrician and physician with Baptist Health Primary Care. “The benefits far outweigh any risks.

Flu vaccines are especially recommended for kids in preschool and elementary school. In fact, national and state health officials urge all children 6 months and older, get flu vaccines.

The study from the CDC published this week concludes that: “Annual vaccination is an important strategy to prevent influenza and influenza-associated complications and deaths. These results support current recommendations for annual influenza vaccination for all children starting at 6 months of age.”

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