|Credit CDC FluView|
Although their numbers may be small compared to the thousands of (especially older) adults who are estimated to die each year from influenza, the loss of 100+ American children each year to influenza is nevertheless a tragedy.
Pediatric flu deaths are reportable in all 50 states, but the numbers displayed in the chart above are likely under stated since only those patients who are tested for influenza, test positive, and then are subsequently reported to the CDC are counted.
In the aftermath of the H1N1 pandemic of 2009, the CDC estimated that the likely number of pediatric deaths in the United States ranged from 910 to 1880, or anywhere from 3 to 6 times higher than reported.
In early 2013, we looked at a study from the CDC that found About 90% Of Pediatric Flu Fatalities Were Unvaccinated, followed later that year by a study in Pediatrics: Influenza-Associated Pediatric Deaths that found that over an 8-year period 43% of the pediatric flu deaths in this country had no high-risk medical conditions.
Although the vaccine effectiveness (VE) numbers for the seasonal flu vaccine haven't always been as high as we'd like (see Interim Estimates of 2016–17 Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness — United States, February 2017) - most years it provides moderate (40%-50%) protection in adults, and it usually performs even better in kids.
While we've seen indicators strongly suggesting that more kids getting the flu shot would save lives, we've a study - published yesterday in the journal Pediatrics - that shows just how of an impact the flu vaccine really has.
For Immediate Release: Monday, April 3, 2017 Contact: Media RelationsA new CDC study published today in Pediatrics is the first of its kind to show that flu vaccination significantly reduced a child’s risk of dying from influenza. The study, which looked at data from four flu seasons between 2010 and 2014, found that flu vaccination reduced the risk of flu-associated death by half (51 percent) among children with underlying high-risk medical conditions and by nearly two-thirds (65 percent) among healthy children. The study findings underscore the importance of the recommendation by CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics that all children 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccine.
Researchers estimated how effective the vaccine was at preventing flu-related deaths by comparing the vaccination status of the children who died from flu to comparison groups of children. The comparison groups were obtained from two national surveys and a database of commercial insurance claims.
“Every year CDC receives reports of children who died from the flu. This study tells us that we can prevent more of these deaths by vaccinating more,” said Brendan Flannery, PhD, lead author and epidemiologist in the Influenza Division. “We looked at four seasons when we know from other studies that the vaccine prevented flu illness, and we found consistent protection against flu deaths in children.”
During the study period, 358 laboratory-confirmed, flu-associated child deaths were reported to CDC. Of the reported pediatric deaths with known vaccination status (291), only one in four children (26 percent) had been vaccinated.
Since the 2004-2005 season, flu-related deaths in children reported to CDC during regular flu seasons ranged from 37 (during 2011-2012) to 171 (during 2012-2013). During the current flu season, 61 pediatric deaths have been reported to CDC as of March 25, 2017. More information about pediatric deaths is available in an interactive format at https://gis.cdc.gov/GRASP/Fluview/PedFluDeath.html.
The full study is available at:
As regular readers of this blog already know, I get my shot every year, and urge others to consider doing so as well (see #NatlPrep: Giving Preparedness A Shot In The Arm).
Although no drug or vaccine can claim to be 100% safe, benign, or effective - the evidence shows that flu vaccines are well tolerated, serious side effects are exceeding rare, and most years it provides a moderate level of protection.
And when combined with good flu hygiene (washing hands, covering coughs, & staying home if sick) – remains your best strategy to stay well during flu season.