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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Vaccinations significantly reduce flu death risk, CDC study finds

In this 2015 file photo, a nurse administers a flu vaccine shot in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)
By Samantha Schmidt Washington Post

Children who were vaccinated in recent years significantly lowered their chances of dying from the flu, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Using data from four flu seasons between 2010 and 2014, researchers found that flu vaccinations reduced the risk of flu-associated death by half among children with underlying high-risk medical conditions and by nearly two-thirds among healthy children.

The study, published Monday in Pediatrics, is believed to be the first of its kind showing that flu vaccination significantly reduced a child’s risk of dying from influenza, the CDC said.

“These results reinforce the need to increase influenza vaccination coverage, especially among children at increased risk of influenza-related complications and death,” the researchers wrote.

The findings support the CDC’s current recommendation, in place for the past six years, that everyone above the age of six months should get an annual flu shot to prevent potentially severe complications from influenza. The results also come at a time when mothers and activists across the country continue to join a growing anti-vaccine movement, alarming public-health experts. In recent months, President Donald Trump has energized the movement through his embrace of discredited theories linking vaccines to autism.

Since 2004-2005, flu-related deaths in children reported to CDC during regular flu seasons ranged from 37 (during 2011-2012) to 171 (during 2012-2013) depending on the severity of the season. In this current flu season, 61 children have reportedly died from the flu as of March 25, according to the CDC.

Public health experts have known for some time that most flu-related deaths occur in unvaccinated children. Through this recent study, researchers were looking to assess whether the influenza vaccination actually reduced the risk of flu-related death in children and adolescents.

During the four seasons of the study period, 358 children reportedly died from laboratory-confirmed flu. Of the 291 deaths with known vaccination status, only one in four children – or 26 percent – had been vaccinated. Deaths were reported from 43 states, New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C., and included children aged 6 months through 17 years.

“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,” Brendan Flannery, PhD, lead author and epidemiologist in the Influenza Division, said in a CDC news release.

In September, health officials had expressed concerns that new flu vaccine recommendations might lead to a drop in use among children. An expert panel had in June reversed previous recommendations to use a nasal spray vaccine for young children. The experts said the nasal spray, FluMist, used by millions, failed to protect children in 2015 for the third year in a row, and said the spray should not be used in the coming flu season.

“We’re concerned that vaccination rates could be lower this year because the mist isn’t available,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said, the Post reported. “A lot of kids prefer the mist to the shot.”

Vaccination coverage estimates from the 2015-2016 influenza season showed steady vaccination rates among children, but a concerning drop in influenza vaccination among adults 50 and older. Hospitalization rates are highest for people older than 64 and second highest for baby boomers, those between 54 to 64.