Vaccinating Children Against the Flu May Help the Elderly
"If it just came down to a question of vaccinating children to protect older people, I am not sure you could make an argument for it," Bruce Gellin, MD, MPH, executive director of the Infectious Disease Society of America's National Network for Immunization Information tells WebMD. "But there is compelling evidence that healthy children might benefit from routine vaccination."
Recent studies suggest very young children -- those under the age of 3 -- are at increased risk of complications from the flu. Officials with the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics are currently discussing whether to recommend routine flu vaccinations during the first years of life. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics' figures show that children under 5 have the second highest rate of hospitalizations due to the flu, exceeded only by those over 65. Between 10% and 40% of young children get the flu annually, with 1% ending up in the hospital.
"These are striking figures, and they certainly suggest that we should at least consider whether vaccinating children [against the flu] is something we should be doing," Gellin says.
CDC medical epidemiologist Carolyn Bridges says the logistics of immunizing every child against the flu would be daunting, and there is currently not enough vaccine manufactured each year to do so.
"The truth is that we are not doing a very good job of reaching high-risk people already, and that goes for children and adults," she tells WebMD. "Right now I don't see how we could embark on a plan to vaccinate all kids, when we are only vaccinating 10% of children with asthma. They are supposed to be vaccinated because they fall into a high-risk group, but it isn't happening."
As early as next year, a flu vaccine delivered as a nasal spray could be available for use in the U.S. The vaccine was specifically tested in children, and Gellin says it will probably be better accepted by parents and healthcare providers than the current vaccine administered by needle.
"If studies show that we should be vaccinating children against the flu, I have no doubt that we can do so," he says. "We probably have the best infrastructure in the world for delivering immunizations to children."