The United States of America and Europe experienced a brutal flu season in the winter of 2017-2018. In preparation for the upcoming season, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement this week recommending that all children ages 6 months and older receive a flu shot this season as soon as it becomes available.
According to the WHO, annual influenza epidemics result in an estimated three to five million cases of severe illness, and about 290 000 – 650 000 deaths globally. The elderly accounts for about half of these deaths and HIV-infected people account for about 30%.
The highest rates of hospitalization are amongst the elderly (65 years and older), HIV-infected people and children younger than 5 years old. Pregnant women are also at an increased risk of hospitalization and death from flu infections.
“The flu virus is common – and unpredictable. It can cause serious complications even in healthy children,” said Dr. Flor M. Munoz of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases. “Being immunized reduces the risk of a child being hospitalized due to flu.”
The 2017-2018 flu season was a particularly disastrous one with 179 children dying of influenza-associated deaths, and thousands more were hospitalized. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 80 % of the children who died had not received a vaccination.
Admittedly, influenza vaccines are not fail proof, but they provide the optimal protection against it. “The effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies and is affected by factors such as the child’s age, health status, vaccination history and the strain of influenza circulating in a community,” said Dr. Henry Bernstein of the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and an Ex-Officio member of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases.
The AAP recommends the injectable flu vaccine as the primary choice for children because it has provided the most consistent protection against all strains of the virus in recent years. The AAP and CDC also support the use of the nasal spray vaccine but recommends the flu shot as the first choice for children.
The nasal spray vaccine may be used this year for children who would not otherwise receive the flu shot, as long as they are 2 years of age or older and healthy without an underlying medical condition, the AAP said. For instance, if a child refuses the shot, or if the physician’s office runs out of the injected vaccine, the nasal spray would be appropriate.
The AAP states that the influenza vaccine is inactivated, which means it does not contain a live flu virus and cannot cause the illness. The number of doses of the vaccine depends on a child’s age and vaccine history. Children between 6 months and 8 years of age require two doses the first time they are vaccinated against flu. Children 9 years of age and older require only one dose, regardless of their vaccination history, the AAP said.
Children who are allergic to eggs can receive the vaccine with the same precautions considered for any vaccine.
For pregnant women, influenza vaccination is safe at any time during pregnancy.