Dying of the flu isn’t common at all, especially for children. However, a new study suggests that most pediatric deaths caused by the flu are of children who weren’t vaccinated. The findings underscore yet again the importance of vaccine efficacy and immunization.

Illustration of influenza virus. Credit: Pixabay.

Illustration of influenza virus. Credit: Pixabay.

74% of the children who had died of the flu were unvaccinated

The researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed the health records of 291 of the 358 American children between 6 months and age 17 who had died of the flu between 2010 and 2014. These records suggest that in only 26 percent of these fatalities were the children vaccinated against influenza.

A flu vaccine makes children far less susceptible to serious flu but sometimes an underlying illness chips away at a person’s immune system making the vaccine less effective than in healthy people. In all, 153 of the children who died had high-risk medical conditions, like asthma, blood and endocrine disorders, or neurological problems. But even among them, only 31 percent had been vaccinated.

“There are always vaccine failures,” said Lyn Finelli, DrPH, chief of the CDC’s surveillance and outbreak response team in 2011. “Say a vaccine is 90% effective. You are going to see those 10% of vaccine failures in statistics on deaths and hospitalizations. It makes you think the vaccine works less well than it does. You never see the vast majority of people for whom the vaccine works.”

The effectiveness of the vaccine among children with high-risk health conditions was at 51 percent, which the authors class as a ‘significant’ benefit. Children who suffer from common risk factors are the most vulnerable and should be vaccinated. Overall, vaccine effectiveness against death was found to be 65 percent, as reported in the journal Pediatrics

The study highlights yet again the importance of annual influenza vaccination, despite what many parents may hear about vaccines. The so-called ‘anti-vaxxing’ movement has targeted also flu vaccines which may contain thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative which is falsely attributed to rising autism incidence in the United States.

“Results of this study suggest that vaccination reduced the risk of influenza-associated death among children and adolescents and add to the evidence of benefits of influenza vaccination for children. 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 ≥6 months of age,” the study concludes.




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