In April 2018, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published results of a study that examined specific characteristics of pediatric deaths from influenza virus infection (Shang ML, Blanton L, Brammer L, et al. Influenza-Associated Pediatric Deaths in the United States, 2010-2016. Pediatrics 2018 Apr;141(4). Pii: e20172918. doi: 10.1542/peds.2017-2918).
The authors examined 675 deaths in children < 18 years of age during the 2010-2011 through 2015-2016 seasons. The median age of children who died from influenza infection was 6 years, but was highest among children < 6 months of age followed next by children between 6 and 23 months of age. Only 31% of children > 6 months of age had received any type of influenza vaccine. About 50% of children who died of influenza had no pre-existing medical conditions that would have put them at greater risk of severe disease. Further, children without pre-existing medical conditions were less likely to be vaccinated than those with pre-existing conditions (27% vs. 36%).
In the same issue of Pediatrics, Dr. Kathryn Edwards from Vanderbilt University offered a commentary on the Shang study, "What Have We Learned About Influenza Deaths in Children and How Can We Do Better?" In this article, Edwards made two important points: “First, many children are not receiving the recommended influenza vaccines, with > 70% of the children who died not immunized. This must be improved.” Regarding deaths in children < 6 months of age, Edwards commented, “Second, although maternal influenza vaccinations were not captured in the surveillance system, authors of randomized clinical trials and observational studies strongly support the impact of maternal influenza immunization on influenza prevention in infants. Current data reveal that only one-third of pregnant women are immunized … This must be widely implemented.”
Increasing influenza immunization rates among children, pregnant women, and caregivers will save lives.