That small shot of pain is just a minor byproduct of the flu vaccine that could save your child’s life, according to a new study from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Assessing four recent flu seasons from 2010 to 2014, researchers from the CDC discovered that receiving the flu vaccine led a to significantly reduced risk of flu-related death among both healthy and at-risk children between the ages of six months and 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,” said lead author Dr. Brendan Flannery, epidemiologist in the Influenza Division of the CDC.
Among children with underlying medical conditions, such as asthma or heart disease, which can lead to flu complications, the seasonal vaccine cut the risk of death by more than half, or 51 percent.
“This study highlights the importance of annual influenza vaccination for children, especially those with underlying high-risk medical conditions. Previous reports have highlighted the high prevalence of underlying high-risk conditions among children who die of influenza-related complications, including neurologic disorders and conditions associated with underlying chromosomal abnormalities and genetic syndromes,” report the study authors in the journal Pediatrics.
Among healthy children without a history of underlying conditions, the effect was even greater — it cut the mortality risk by nearly two-thirds, or 65 percent.
Pediatric mortality rates linked to the flu can fluctuate from year to year. For example, the CDC reports that 37 deaths occurred during the 2011-2012 flu season, compared to 171 deaths over the subsequent season from 2012-2013.
The evidence adds to the weight of research behind flu-related mortality rates among children. “Most influenza-associated pediatric deaths occur in unvaccinated children,” report the study authors.
Prevention Worth a Ton
The new multi-year study adds compelling statistical evidence behind the call from public health groups and medical associations to get kids vaccinated — especially those at heightened risk.
“We looked at four seasons when we know from other studies that the vaccine prevented flu illness, and we found consistent protection against flu deaths in children,” added Flannery.
Children who experience complications present a greater risk, and prompt medical attention is warranted when some of these conditions appear.
“Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections are examples of flu-related complications,” notes the CDC. All of those conditions can lead to challenges, hospitalizations and poorer health outcomes than a case of the flu alone.
But the flu can also exacerbate current conditions. “For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience a worsening of this condition triggered by flu,” adds the CDC.
You can find a full list of high-risk conditions at the CDC page online.
Ultimately, the researchers say that bringing your child in for a shot is a no-brainer. “These results support current recommendations for annual influenza vaccination for all children ≥6 months of age,” they report.
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.