Study Shows Flu Vaccine Prevents Severe Illness in Children

By: Erin Hare

Every year, from fall to early spring, the flu causes up to 40,000 hospitalizations among U.S. children.

Yet, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over the age of six months should get a flu shot, about 40% of American children don’t get vaccinated.

When asked why they opt to skip the flu shot, people often say they’re skeptical that the vaccine works, concerned – wrongly – that the vaccine could cause the flu or other side effects, or they don’t consider themselves or their children at risk.

“Each and every year influenza comes. And each and every year unfortunately we have children who will die from influenza, and it’s not always children who have underlying medical illnesses, sometimes it is perfectly healthy children,” said Marian Michaels, M.D., MPH, pediatric infectious disease doctor at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Michaels, along with John Williams, M.D., chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at UPMC Children’s Hospital, coauthored a study published today in the journal Pediatrics showing that although the flu vaccine may not always prevent children from catching the virus, it does reduce the risk that symptoms will become severe.

For the study, which was led by the CDC, the researchers analyzed records of 1,792 hospital inpatients and 1,944 emergency department patients who were treated for respiratory disease at seven pediatric medical centers across the country during the 2018-2019 flu season.

The flu vaccine reduced hospitalizations and emergency department visits by 40%–60% among children who contracted the virus, despite the fact that the flu vaccine was not well matched with the circulating strains that year.

“There are so many diseases that we don’t have the ability to do something about, to intervene, but here we have a vaccine,” Michaels said. “It’s not perfect, but it works, and anything we can do to try to prevent death and hospitalization and emergency room visits we should do.”

You can ask for a flu shot at your primary care doctor’s office, pharmacy or UPMC Urgent Care facility. Select UPMC Children’s Community Pediatrics locations also sponsor flu clinics throughout the fall.