Unlike vaccinations for diseases like measles and mumps, annual flu shots aren't required for kids. But it seems that those who don't get them are at higher risk of dying from influenza. (Yes, the virus kills tens of thousands of Americans per year, and so far this flu season 61 kids have died.)
For a new paper published in Pediatrics, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at data from four flu seasons from July 2010 to June 2014 and found that 358 kids and teens died from the flu during that time. (They were between the ages of six months and 17 years.) The authors were able to determine whether 291 of the kids had been vaccinated or not and, of that group, 26 percent had gotten the vaccine before getting sick but a staggering 74 percent had not. Among 153 kids who had underlying medical conditions (like asthma, blood disorders, or being immunosuppressed) that raise risk for flu complications, only 31 percent had been vaccinated. Overall, they estimated that just under half of all kids in the US got the flu vaccine in those years.
The vaccine reduced healthy kids' risk of dying by 65 percent; the reduction was 51 percent in high-risk kids. This study is believed to be the first of its kind to show that getting the flu shot can significantly reduce a child's risk of dying. The authors concluded that "because of the higher risk of severe complications and influenza-associated death among children with underlying conditions, vaccination is especially important for these children." The CDC has recommended for the past 6 years that everyone older than 6 months get a flu shot.
John Treanor, a flu vaccine researcher at the University of Rochester Medical Center who was not involved in the study, told NBC News that experts "recognize that the current vaccine is not perfect. But it is substantially better than not getting vaccinated. The vaccine we have now does work but only if you use it."
This study is also an argument for everyone getting vaccinated so there's less flu virus flying around, which helps protect the people for whom it can be deadly. Say it with us: Vaccines save lives.
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