Reduced Flu Shot Rates Raise Concerns at the U.S. CDC
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced initial estimates for influenza vaccine uptake among children and pregnant women for the 2021-2020 flu season are lower compared to the same time last season.
The reported 15% point drop in influenza vaccination coverage among pregnant women and a 6% decrease in children could put many people at risk this flu season.
The CDC stated on October 27, 2021, this trend ‘could be dangerous for many of the people in these groups who may be at higher risk of developing serious influenza complications.’
‘Flu vaccines can be lifesaving in children.’
Children younger than five years and children of any age with certain chronic medical conditions are at higher risk of developing severe flu complications.
The reported 6% point drop in flu vaccination coverage among children from the same time last year is very concerning, especially since vaccination coverage among children overall previous season (59%) was down from the 2019–2020 season (64%).
The CDC estimates that up to 20,000 children are hospitalized from flu annually. During 2019–2020, 199 flu deaths in children were reported to CDC. This data was the most pediatric deaths reported to CDC during a regular flu season since these deaths became nationally reportable.
However, only one pediatric death was confirmed by the CDC during the 2020-2021 flu season.
But there were over 1,000 pneumonia-related deaths reported in those under 17 years of age last season.
Additionally, influenza is especially dangerous for pregnant women because of changes in their immune system, heart, and lungs during and after pregnancy. These changes can make women more vulnerable to flu and its potentially severe complications.
If pregnant women get flu, they have more than double the risk of hospitalization than nonpregnant women of childbearing age.
Among pregnant women at the end of September 2021, vaccine coverage was lower for most female demographic.
The good news is about 139 million flu vaccines had been distributed in the U.S. as of October 15, 2021, so vaccine supply is unlikely to be causing decreased uptake.
Possible reasons for vaccine decreases include, but are not limited to:
- Low influenza activity last season
- Vaccine fatigue caused by ongoing COVID-19 vaccination efforts
- Confusion about the need for a flu vaccine this season or belief that COVID-19 vaccines protect against flu
- Changes in healthcare-seeking behavior.
Another underreported trend is most countries have identified very few influenza samples as of late October 2021. This trend has been confirmed by the CDC and other health agencies, such as the WHO, ECDC, PAHO, and the UK.
Influenza viruses cause flu illness, and COVID-19 is caused by a different type of virus called coronavirus.
So, flu vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines protect against different viruses, and one vaccine is not a substitute or a replacement for the other.
According to the CDC, everyone should be up to date on their recommended flu and COVID-19 vaccinations.
The CDC confirmed it would continue to oversee flu shot coverage estimates to see whether these early indications of lower coverage remain consistent.
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