Researchers from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention revealed in a study published on Monday how vaccination can prevent flu-related deaths in both healthy children and those with medical conditions.
Healthy Children Can Die From Flu
Researchers looked at the cases of children who died from influenza during the four-year period covering the years 2010 and 2014.
While children with existing health conditions, such as asthma and developmental disorders, have long been known to be at high risk for complications, researchers found that half of the fatal cases were of children who were healthy before they got infected by the virus.
The research highlights the fact that healthy children can still die of flu.
"People often don't consider the flu to be very serious," said Brendan Flannery, from the CDC, who was part of the study "But it can be, and even children can die."
Flu Vaccine Reduces Risk Of Death By 65 Percent
The findings of the study, published in the journal Pediatrics, back up current recommendations for children between 6 months of age and older to get an annual vaccination. Most of the children in the United States who died of flu in recent years did not receive vaccination for the virus.
Of the children who died from influenza during the four-year period covering the years 2010 and 2014, three-quarters have not been vaccinated against the virus in the months before they became sick
Health experts said that while getting vaccinated does not provide 100 percent protection, it does reduce the likelihood of death from flu by 65 percent.
"We recognize that the current vaccine is not perfect. But it is substantially better than not getting vaccinated. The vaccine we have now does work but only if you use it," said John Treanor, from the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Although dying from flu is a relatively rare occurrence, fatal cases do occur every year and the incidence varies depending on the severity of the flu season. During the 2011-2012 flu season, 37 died from the virus but the 2009 flu pandemic saw 358 deaths.
The results likewise show the importance of giving high-risk children vaccines because of their higher likelihood to develop flu-related complications.
Higher Risk For Children With Medical Conditions
Flannery and colleagues looked at the cases of 291 children, between 6 months old and 17 years old, who died of influenza from 2010 to 2014 and found that only 26 percent of the children had been vaccinated before they got sick.
Of these children, 153 had high-risk medical conditions such as blood disorders, asthma, and heart disease, making them at higher risk for complications from flu that can lead to hospitalization or death. Only 31 percent of these had been vaccinated against flu.
Prevention Is Better Than Cure
The researchers said that the flu vaccine in general reduced risk of death by half among children with high-risk conditions and by almost a third among those without such conditions.
"Results of this study suggest that vaccination reduced the risk of influenza-associated death among children and adolescents and add to the evidence of benefits of influenza vaccination for children," Fry and colleagues reported. "Annual vaccination is an important strategy to prevent influenza and influenza-associated complications and deaths."