Sep 23, 2004 (CIDRAP News) Few children between the ages of 6 and 23 months received influenza shots in the 2002-03 flu season, which marked the first time federal health officials formally encouraged shots for that age-group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Because children younger than 2 are more likely to end up in a hospital if they contract the flu than older children are, the CDC this year upgraded the vaccination advice from "encouragement" to a full recommendation.
"Too few young children are protected against influenza, which for this age group, can be a very serious illness," CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said in a news release today. "This season, CDC not only encourages flu shots for young children, we recommend them. We're urging more parents to get their children vaccinated against influenza because annual flu shots will reduce cases of influenza and its complications, decrease hospitalizations, and save lives."
In the 2002-03 season, only 7.4% of children in the 6- to 23-month age-group received at least one flu shot and only 4.4% were fully vaccinated, the CDC reports. The findings, based on the 2003 National Immunization Survey, are reported in the Sep 24 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The CDC counted children as vaccinated if they received one or more flu shots between September and December 2002. Children were counted as fully vaccinated if they received two doses by December 2002 or January 2003, depending on the date of their first dose. Only children who were aged 6 to 23 months for the whole period of September through December 2002 were included.
Vaccination coverage varied widely by state and urban area, the article says. The proportion of children receiving one or more shots ranged from 2.2% in El Paso County, Texas, to 26.6% in Rhode Island.
In the 2002-03 season, flu vaccination for healthy children aged 6 to 23 months was not yet covered by the Vaccines for Children Program (VFC), which provides free flu vaccine for vulnerable children such as Medicaid recipients and uninsured children, the report notes. The lack of VFC coverage and the absence of an official recommendation for vaccination probably contributed to the low vaccination coverage, the CDC says. The agency says vaccine supply problems probably were not a factor.
In today's news release, the CDC noted that 152 children died of flu-related causes in the 2003-04 flu season. Most of the children had not been fully vaccinated against flu. "Almost half of the children had an underlying medical condition, but 40% were previously healthy," the agency said.
Because children younger than 2 face an increased risk of flu-related complications, vaccination is also recommended for their family members, others living or working in their household, and childcare providers, the CDC said. Vaccination is especially important for people in contact with babies younger than 6 months, because vaccination is not approved for that age-group.
CDC. Childhood influenza-vaccination coverageUnited States, 2002-03 influenza season. MMWR 2004;53(37):863-6 [Full text]
Sep 23 CDC news release