Health News

Flu vaccination rates in children, teens remain low

Analysis of CDC flu vaccine data indicates roughly 60 percent of children receive the shot, regardless of flu season severity or effectiveness of the vaccine -- which researchers say is too low.
By Brian P. Dunleavy   |   Nov. 11, 2019 at 11:00 AM
Analysis of CDC vaccination data suggests too few children receive the flu shot each year, in spite of virus severity and vaccine effectiveness. File Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg/UPI

Nov. 11 (UPI) -- Too few American parents are having their children vaccinated against influenza each year, researchers say after an analysis of data.

In spite of the severity of recent flu seasons, and advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others, less than two-thirds of children and teens do not get the annual vaccine, according to findings published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The universal guidance is that everyone over the age of 6 months, with few exceptions, should receive the flu vaccine.

"We do know from our own, as well as other people's research, that there remain widespread misperceptions about influenza and the vaccine," study co-author Melissa Stockwell, associate professor of pediatrics and population and family health at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, told UPI. "Families often think of influenza as 'just a bad cold' when we know instead it can be a serious and sometimes deadly infection. They also may believe that the flu shot can cause the flu while we know that flu shots, because of the way they are made, cannot cause flu illness. We also know based on other research from our group that providing educational information to families does increase receipt of the influenza vaccine."

Stockwell and her colleagues reviewed CDC data for eight flu seasons, from 2010 to 2017 on vaccination rates for children between 6 months and 17 years of age. The data was evaluated against the agency's "influenza severity designations" for pediatric patients for both the current flu season and the one immediately prior.

The researchers also compared vaccination rates to effectiveness of the shot against the virus during the prior flu season.

Generally, they noted "a downward trend in vaccination rates" in recent years, and that none of the three variables -- severity of the current influenza season, severity of prior season or vaccine effectiveness -- had a significant effect on these numbers.

For example, the 2010-2011 flu season, which the CDC deemed "high severity," vaccination rates for most age groups of children hovered around 60 percent or less, with the exception of infants between 6 and 23 months old.

The CDC considered the flu season immediately prior, 2009-10, to be of "moderate severity," and vaccine effectiveness for both the 2009-10 and 2010-2011 seasons was around 60 percent for all pediatric age groups except teens.

"Fortunately, in the just released CDC influenza vaccination data, the downward trend in vaccination was reversed this past season," Stockwell said. "However, it still remains that only 63 percent of children are being vaccinated against influenza."

"Influenza can be a serious and at times deadly infection. Vaccination is the best way that we can protect ourselves and our families from influenza," she said.

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