While pediatric influenza vaccination rates in the United States have increased considerably over the past five years, a new report issued by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and its Childhood Influenza Immunization Coalition (CIIC) identified critical gaps that need to be addressed to continue progress.
Overall, influenza vaccination rates among children age 6 months to 17 years remained steady at 52 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The greatest increase was among children age 6 to 23 months; approximately 75 percent of these children were vaccinated with at least one influenza vaccine dose in 2011-2012. However, immunization coverage for children decreased with age. The lowest rates were among adolescents age 13 to 17 years at 34 percent.
"This represents a significant public health milestone, but there is still work to be done to ensure that the nearly 74 million children recommended to receive the influenza vaccine each year are protected," says Carol J. Baker, MD, chair of CIIC, a group established by NFID in 2007 to increase awareness among healthcare professionals and parents about influenza and the benefits of annual vaccination. Baker is past-president of NFID and professor of Pediatrics, Molecular Virology and Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine.
The report, "Improving Childhood Influenza Immunization Rates: A Five-Year Progress Report," includes the following key focus areas in the fight against childhood influenza.
Increasing education and awareness among adolescents and their parents
Many parents mistakenly believe that influenza vaccination is not necessary for children as they get older. Since adolescents often play a role in their own health decision making, educational efforts need to be targeted directly to adolescents as well as to their parents.
Getting full protection for children under age 9
Some children between 6 months and 8 years of age need two doses of influenza vaccine to be fully protected. Yet, there remains a large gap between the number of children who should receive two doses and those who actually do so.
Increasing protection for pregnant women and newborns
More than half of all women who are pregnant go unprotected from influenza. Vaccination benefits not only the mother, but also the newborn during the first 6 months of life, when they are too young to receive the vaccine themselves.
Getting a strong recommendation from a healthcare professional
Research consistently shows that parents need to be reminded every year about influenza vaccination. They cite healthcare professionals as the most important influencers of their decisions to get their children vaccinated.
Baker likens the current state of childhood influenza vaccination to that of a runner in training. "We've completed a 'half marathon,' but we need to keep going. We have a full marathon to complete."
Source: National Foundation for Infectious Diseases