New CDC Study Shows Flu Shot Can Reduce Rate of Flu-Related Pediatric Mortality

In a new study, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers have found that getting the flu shot reduces the risk of influenza-associated pediatric deaths.

With the 2016-2017 flu season now in its last weeks, a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that flu vaccination in children significantly reduces the rate of flu-related pediatric mortality.

Although flu activity continues to remain elevated in many parts of the United States, according to the CDC’s most recent FluView report, fewer states are reporting widespread flu activity. In the previous week’s report, 36 states reported widespread flu activity while the most recent surveillance shows only 31 states experiencing flu activity this week.

Despite the drop in overall flu activity, six new flu-related pediatric deaths were reported for the week ending March 25, 2017. Three of those deaths were attributed to influenza A (H3N2), two were attributed to influenza A viruses without subtyping, and one was attributed to influenza B.

So far this season, the United States has seen 61 flu-related pediatric deaths, a drop so far from the previous four flu seasons. For example, the 2012-2013 flu season had a reported 171 pediatric deaths. The last time the country saw fewer pediatric flu deaths was during the 2011-2012 season, when 37 children died of influenza-associated symptoms, although with several weeks still to go in the current flu season, the total could continue to rise.

In related news, researchers from the CDC have found that childhood flu vaccination is associated with a reduced risk of influenza-associated pediatric death. Using national surveillance data on laboratory-confirmed influenza deaths, the research team investigated pediatric deaths occurring from July 2010 through June 2014, and found that most of childhood flu deaths occur in children who have not received a flu shot. Of the 358 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated pediatric deaths among children aged 6 months through 17 years that were reported during that period, the researchers determined the vaccination status for 291 of the children who had died and found that 75 children (26%) had received the flu vaccine before the onset of illness.

The overall vaccine effectiveness against death was 65%, and vaccine effectiveness among children with high-risk medical conditions was 51%. The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.

“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, the study’s lead author and epidemiologist in the CDC’s Influenza Division in a recent press release. “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.” The authors note that their study highlights the importance of vaccinating children for the flu each year, particularly those children with underlying high-risk medical conditions, which in past reports have been linked to higher rates of death from influenza-related complications. They also point out that during the years included in the study, vaccination coverage among children at high risk remained below the Healthy People 2020 target of 70%, and that getting a flu shot is especially important for children with underlying conditions.

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