It’s March, and while we may be anxious for the arrival of spring, what we’ve seen instead is a whole lot of people sick with flu. Surveillance data shows that while the flu may have peaked in some areas of the country, flu activity remains elevated throughout most of the U.S. Since flu season typically extends into April and May, now is the time to remain vigilant and get vaccinated if that is still something you haven’t managed to do.
Flu surveillance reports indicate that the flu strains that make up this year’s vaccine are a good match to those circulating across the U.S. The most dominant strain has been the influenza A (H3N2) strain, and the estimated effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing illness caused by that strain has been 43%. However, we’re also seeing cases of influenza B virus, and the vaccine’s estimated effectiveness against that strain is 73%. This amounts to an overall vaccine protection of about 48%.
While some may question, “Why get a flu shot if it doesn’t guarantee you won’t get the flu?”, the answer is simple. 48% protection is much better than none.
When a vaccinated individual is exposed to flu, they are about half as likely to have to go to the doctor, be hospitalized or even die from the flu as compared to their unvaccinated counterpart.
Sure, the flu vaccine isn’t perfect. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth getting.
Consider the fact that most everyone wears a seat belt when driving in a car, and yet they’ve only been shown to reduce vehicular injury and death by about 50%. So if you wouldn’t drive your car without wearing a seatbelt, why would you want to skip a flu shot?
Another reason people often use to explain why they haven’t gotten a flu vaccine is because they’ve never had the flu and they don’t consider it to be dangerous.
The 60/40 factor tells us otherwise.
40: This is the number of children who’ve died from the flu so far this season.
While no parent every imagines that their child will die from a preventable disease, we know that 40 children across the nation have died from flu so far this season. And sadly, the season is not over yet. (Update: as of March 13th the number of pediatric deaths has risen to 48). Most years the average is closer to 100 pediatric flu deaths and as high as 49,000 flu-related deaths among adults.
Since pediatric flu deaths must be reported, as opposed to adult flu deaths, we tend to see news reports throughout the flu season, such as these:
- A 7-year-old and a 17-year-old who died in Florida back in January.
- Four children who died from flu in New York City in January.
- Five children from Ohio to include 6-year-old Eva Harris, 7-year-old Ava Coronado, 9-year-old Korbyn Mathias who was vaccinated, but also asthmatic, as well as a 6-year-old boy from Salem and a 7-year-old boy from Columbiana County.
- 17-year-old Kayla Linton, a healthy but unvaccinated high school athlete from Maryland, who died in January
- And just this week, another child from Milwaukee.
While we may never know the specifics of each case, what we do know is that the flu is completely unpredictable. From season to season, we don’t always know exactly which strain will be most prevalent, which will be most dangerous, and who will suffer, be hospitalized or even die as a result of the flu.
The 60/40 factor in regards to pediatric flu deaths: In a previous season, 60% of pediatric deaths occurred among children who were in a high risk category, while 40% had no chronic health problems.
This guest post by Serese Marotta, Chief Operating Officer of Families Fighting Flu, is part of the CDC Flu Blog-A-Thon held in honor of National Influenza Vaccination Week.
As parents, we do everything we can to protect our children. We buckle them into their car seats, make them wear their bike helmets, hold their hand while crossing the street, and even get them their recommended childhood vaccinations. But what about getting our kids the flu vaccine?
Sadly, only about 42% of adults and 60% of children received their annual flu vaccine last season.
These statistics may not mean much to you, unless you or a loved one have had a personal experience with the flu. But they haunt me every day. As a mother who lost her healthy, five-year-old son, Joseph, during the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, I want to do everything I can to ensure no other child dies from flu.
Despite what many people may believe, influenza is not like the common cold. Influenza is a very serious and highly contagious disease that tends to develop quickly, especially in children. Influenza can also lead to hospitalization or death, even in otherwise healthy individuals. Every year in the U.S., approximately 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized, and on average, 100 children die each year from flu infection and its complications. According to the CDC, 80 to 90 percent of pediatric flu deaths over the past few years have been in unvaccinated children, many of whom were otherwise healthy.
This is why I am writing this article and telling Joseph’s story again, in hopes that it will save someone else from losing a loved one to flu.
As a mother, I have always tried my best to protect my kids, including getting them vaccinated against the flu every year. When my son Joseph was in kindergarten, he received his annual flu vaccine on September 26, 2009. Unfortunately, the H1N1 flu strain was just developing, and it was not included in the seasonal vaccine that year. On October 9th he threw up a few times and became increasingly lethargic. Our pediatrician suggested we take him to the local urgent care and upon arrival, they found his blood oxygen level to be very low. They immediately transported him to the local children’s hospital where a rapid flu test came back negative and he was eventually diagnosed with pneumonia.
Several days into his hospital stay, the doctors informed us that Joseph’s culture was growing influenza, which was likely H1N1, but not to worry—it was “just the flu”.
A flu vaccine is recommended for every one age 6 months and older because preventing the flu is better than suffering with it. The real danger of flu is not just in the fever, cough, congestion, extreme fatigue and muscle aches that can cause people to be ill for a week or more, it’s the fact that influenza causes thousands of hospitalizations and deaths each year.
Getting a flu shot not only helps to protect us from getting the flu ourselves, but it means we are less likely to spread the virus to those who are more vulnerable to complications from the flu. This includes young children, pregnant women, infants too young to be vaccinated, older individuals, and people with weakened immune systems. In fact, children account for about 20,000 hospitalizations and roughly 100 deaths from influenza each year.
Unfortunately, this year we are hearing that some parents are opting to skip the flu vaccine for their children simply because the nasal flu mist – also known as the live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) – is no longer recommended or available this season.
As a mother, I know it can be difficult to deal with children who have anxiety over shots and needles, and no parent likes to see their children in pain. However, when parents skip shots for their children, they are more likely to have to watch their children suffer with the flu, which is much more dangerous than any short-lived anxiety over getting a needle in the arm. In some cases, the flu can be devastating and even fatal, especially for young children.
Consider Gianna’s story.
Her mother, father and brother were all vaccinated in 2015. But by January, they still hadn’t gotten around to getting two and a half-year old Gianna vaccinated. She fell sick on January 8th, and by January 10th she had died from influenza.
With Gianna, like we see with many children, everything happened so fast. She started feeling ill at daycare. The next morning her pediatrician confirmed that she had the H3N2 influenza virus and prescribed antivirals. But the infection spread quickly and the antivirals didn’t even have time to kick in.
Later that evening, Gianna called out to her mother as she lay beside her in bed. It would be the last time she would hear Gianna’ voice. Read more…
As we countdown to National Influenza Vaccination Week (Dec 7-13) here on Shot of Prevention, we’re participating in a special blog relay with other Flu Vaccination Digital Ambassadors. Each day a different blogger will post about the importance of flu vaccination as it relates to various populations such as parents, children, healthcare workers, the elderly, and people with chronic conditions. Your invited to join us in conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #NIVW2014, or by commenting on the posts that will appear on the following sites: A Place for Mom (12/1), Nurses Who Vaccinate (12/2), Voices for Vaccines (12/3), Healtheo360(12/5), HealthCentral (12/6), and About.com Cold & Flu (12/7).
The decision to vaccinate our children is based on our overwhelming desire to protect them. While it’s estimated that as many as 93% of children between the ages of 19-35 months were vaccinated in the United States in 2013 in an effort to prevent as many as 16 different diseases, only 58.9% of children 6 months to 17 years, and 52.2% of expectant mothers, were vaccinated against influenza last season.
While we may never know how many of those unvaccinated children were lucky enough to avoid the flu, we do know that each year an average of 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized because of influenza complications, and that during the 2013-2014 influenza season as many as 109 children died.
The question is, how many more will suffer or die this season?
Despite the fact that childhood influenza vaccination rates have been slowly, but steadily, increasing each year since the universal flu recommendation was announced in 2010, last season’s statistics prove that we can do better.
As we prepare for National Influenza Vaccination Week next week (Dec 7th – 13th), it’s my hope that more parents and expectant mothers will realize how dangerous the flu can be – even to healthy children – because the unfortunate reality is that today’s children may be tomorrow’s statistic and they really don’t have a choice in the matter.
As immunization advocates, we owe it to the children to ensure their parents get the information they need to make an intelligent and informed decision. For instance, a recent study showed that flu vaccine reduced children’s risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admission by 74% during flu seasons from 2010-2012. That’s a pretty convincing statistic in favor of childhood flu vaccination.
And then there is research that illustrates the benefits of flu vaccination among pregnant women. For instance, studies show that giving flu vaccine to pregnant women has been 92% effective in preventing hospitalization of infants for flu. That’s because when women get vaccinated during pregnancy they are not only protecting themselves, but they also transfer antibodies to their unborn baby through the placenta, which helps provide their newborn with protection until they can get their own flu vaccine beginning at six months of age. Read more…