Flu vaccine coverage among children last season was the lowest in eight seasons, health officials said Tuesday.
About 58% of children ages 6 months to 17 years got vaccinated in the 2021-’22 season, slightly below the previous season and down from 64% in 2019-’20, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“We need to remind parents and caregivers that flu can be dangerous for children, especially children younger than 5 years old and children of any age with certain chronic conditions who are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications,” CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., said in a news conference.
The AAP and CDC recommend everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine. The vaccines can be safely administered at the same time as COVID-19 vaccines.
Among adults, 49% got a flu vaccine last year, according to CDC data. A new survey commissioned by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) found the same percentage plan to get vaccinated this season.
About 50% of pregnant women got vaccinated last season, down from 55% the season before. Vaccination is especially important for people in this group as they are at increased risk of severe illness, and vaccination during pregnancy can protect both the mother and her baby.
The data released Tuesday were part of the NFID’s annual flu vaccine campaign kickoff event.
“Each year we look forward to this day as a kickoff that serves as a critical reminder of flu vaccination and how flu disease is unpredictable, it’s potentially deadly, and it needs to be taken seriously and annual vaccination is our best protection,” said NFID President Patricia (Patsy) A. Stinchfield, R.N., M.S., CPNP.
While vaccine effectiveness against infection varies, it still can prevent hospitalizations and deaths. Last season, about 9 million people got sick, 100,000 people were hospitalized and 5,000 died, according to the CDC.
The last two flu seasons were relatively mild, likely due to COVID-19 mitigation strategies. However, the U.S. often looks to the Southern Hemisphere for a hint of what’s to come and Australia has had its worst flu season in the past five years, said NFID Medical Director William Schaffner, M.D. At least 224,565 people have gotten sick, 1,784 have been hospitalized and 305 have died, according to Australia’s health officials.
In addition to getting vaccinated, experts recommend people wash their hands, cover coughs and sneezes, stay home when sick and take flu antivirals if prescribed.
Jeb S. Teichman, M.D., FAAP, a retired pediatrician and health care executive, knows all too well the devastating toll flu can take. His 29-year-old son Brent was unvaccinated and died of flu complications in 2019 despite previously being healthy. The loss, he said, was devastating.
“For all those listening to my story who are vaccine hesitant,” he said, “do it for those who love you so that they won’t walk the path that we and many other families in this country walk.”
- AAP policy Recommendations for Prevention and Control of Influenza in Children, 2022-2023
- AAP technical report Recommendations for Prevention and Control of Influenza in Children, 2022-2023
- Information on flu from the CDC
- CDC FAQs about the 2022-’23 flu season
- Information for parents on flu vaccine from HealthyChildren.org
- Information on flu from the AAP Red Book
- Flu vaccine locations near you.