As signaled in the fall of 2003, at the height of the influenza season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has adopted a recommendation that children six months to 23 months of age should be vaccinated annually against influenza. CDC released the 2004 recommendations for the prevention and control of influenza today in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Recommendations and Reports. The recommendations come from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a panel of experts that advises CDC and the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) on issues related to vaccines, and will be in effect for the 2004-2005 influenza season.
Studies have shown that infants and children younger than 2 are at increased risk for influenza-related hospitalizations. Preliminary reports of pediatric deaths from influenza during the 2003-04 influenza season indicated that among 143 deaths, 58 were in children younger than two years of age. Influenza vaccines are not recommended for children younger that six months of age because there are no influenza vaccines licensed for use within this age group. The current inactivated influenza vaccines are approved by FDA for use among persons six months of age and older. Live attenuated influenza vaccine is licensed for those 5 to 49 years of age.
"This is an important step in protecting potentially vulnerable people from the health risks posed by influenza," said CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding. "As last year's experience reminds us, many children suffer serious harm from influenza and would benefit from vaccination. Influenza vaccination is a simple and effective step parents can take to help protect their children from a potentially life-threatening disease."
Two doses of inactivated influenza vaccine administered more than one month apart are recommended for previously unvaccinated children younger than age 9. If possible, the second dose should be administered before December. All subsequent, annual influenza vaccinations require only one dose of vaccine.
The recommendations are being broadened to protect more people from influenza. In addition to children less than two years of age, the recommendations advise that close contacts of children age 0 to 23 months receive an influenza vaccination.
Other changes from last year's recommendations are:
* Composition of the influenza vaccine for the 2004-05
* Clarification on the use of live, attenuated influenza
vaccine in healthcare workers and close contacts of
severely immunosuppressed persons.
Influenza vaccination is the best method for preventing influenza and its severe complications. In addition to healthy young children and their close contacts, annual influenza vaccination is recommended for persons at increased risk for complications from influenza (persons aged 65 and older; residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities; people with chronic disorders of the pulmonary or
cardiovascular systems, including asthma; people who have required regular medical follow-up or hospitalization because of certain health conditions; women who are pregnant during the influenza season; people who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy), people aged 50-64 years, and people who can transmit influenza to those at high risk.