Flu Vaccine Rates in Children Remain Low, Which Explains Why My Kids' School Is Such a Germfest

This little girl is probably coughing on your kid at preschool RIGHT NOW.

Despite health officials’ recommendation that all children 6 months and older receive an annual flu vaccine, less than 45 percent of children are being vaccinated against the flu.

The news comes out of a five-year study conducted by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, published in the journal Pediatrics.

Notably, the study also showed that seasonal flu remains a major cause of hospitalization, emergency department and outpatient visits among children and that the use of tools known to reduce flu rates vaccination and antiviral medications were underused.

Okay, fine, this doesn’t entirely explain why my kids’ school is such a germfest (the flu vaccine doesn’t prevent gross stomach bugs and the common cold, for example), but I’m pretty sure it’s not helping, either.

“Our research showed that one in six children under age 5 who went to an emergency department or clinic with fever and respiratory symptoms during the peak flu seasons had the flu,” said Katherine Poehling, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study. “Many of those illnesses could have been prevented by vaccination, the best known protection against the flu.”

The researchers found that children less than 6 months of age had the highest hospitalization rates with flu. “Parents should include a yearly flu shot to protect themselves and their children,” Dr. Poehling said. “The best way to protect infants too young to receive the influenza vaccine is for pregnant women, the infant’s family members and contacts to get the shot, too.”

The study, funded by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported population-based data on confirmed flu cases in children younger than 5 years old in three counties in Ohio, New York and Tennessee. More than 8,000 children seen in inpatient, emergency department and clinic settings were included during five flu seasons from 2004 through 2009. Over the five-year study period, the overall flu vaccination coverage didn’t change much, although the prevalence of the flu varied.

The proportion of infants less than 6 months old diagnosed with flu increased to 48 percent as compared to 28 percent in a previous study (2000 2004) conducted by the research team. For children between ages 6 months to 5 years, the proportion diagnosed with the flu remained similar in both studies. Researchers said these data suggest that doctors’ awareness of the flu among young infants has increased, but hasn’t among older children.

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto)

Read more from Joslyn on Babble and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow Joslyn on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

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