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Study: Most children who died of flu weren’t vaccinated

The majority of children who died of flu in recent years in the US were not vaccinated against the virus, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In a new study published in Pediatrics Journal on Monday, experts explain that 74% of these deaths were in cases of children who had not been vaccinated and that the average vaccination per cohort is less than half.

“From July 2010 through June 2014, 358 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated pediatric deaths were reported among children aged 6 months through 17 years. Vaccination status was determined for 291 deaths; 75 (26%) received vaccine before illness onset. Average vaccination coverage in survey cohorts was 48%. Overall vaccine effectiveness against death was 65%. Among 153 deaths in children with underlying high-risk medical conditions, 47 (31%) were vaccinated. Vaccine effectiveness among children with high-risk conditions was 51%, compared with 65% among children without high-risk conditions”, the study results show.

The study adds that the estimated influenza vaccine effectiveness was 65% (95% credible interval, 54% to 74%) against laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated deaths among children. Also, vaccine effectiveness was lower for children with underlying medical conditions, but protection remained significant.

“This study highlights the importance of annual influenza vaccination for children, especially those with underlying high-risk medical conditions. Previous reports have highlighted the high prevalence of underlying high-risk conditions among children who die of influenza-related complications”, study authors say.

In the United States, influenza-associated deaths among children occur annually, with varying incidence depending on the severity of the influenza season, according to the researchers. The study also says that from 1976 to 2007, influenza was estimated to account for less than 100 deaths annually among children and adolescents.

Since 2004, when influenza-associated deaths among children younger then 18 years old became nationally notifiable, reported numbers of deaths have ranged from 37 in the 2011–2012 season to 358 during the 2009 pandemic.

Surveillance for pediatric deaths has contributed to identifying groups at high risk of influenza-related mortality, such as children with neurological conditions and documented fatal illness among children with and without underlying high-risk medical conditions.

“Previous reports have indicated low rates of influenza vaccination among pediatric deaths despite a high prevalence of underlying medical conditions that increase risk for influenza complications”, according to the study.

“Annual influenza vaccination beginning at 6 months of age is recommended to prevent influenza and its complications. Most influenza-associated pediatric deaths occur in unvaccinated children. Evidence for the effectiveness of vaccination in preventing influenza-associated deaths is needed”, researchers recommend.

 

Joanna Lewis