Flu Shots for Tots Ineffective

Shots do not reduce doctor visits or hospitalizations in recent flu seasons.

ByABC News
October 6, 2008, 4:36 PM

Oct. 7, 2008— -- Two reports this week showed the flu vaccine may not always be effective in preventing the virus and resulting health problems in children, but medical experts said nothing in the new data should discourage people from getting immunized.

One study revealed that flu shots in the past two seasons did not reduce doctor visits or the risk of hospitalization for flu in children age 5 and younger. Another showed that MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a sometimes fatal drug-resistant bacteria that can accompany the flu, is contributing to the growing number of child deaths from the influenza.

The first study, published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, suggested that a reason the vaccine did not prevent children from getting the flu was that the strains in the flu vaccines have mismatched the circulating flu strain in past years .

Although researchers did not look at the hospitalization rate for the ages of everyone who'd received the mismatched vaccine, young children and the aging population are typically hit hardest by the flu when they get it. Influenza is one of the leading causes of death among children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 72 children died from the flu last year.

"This year, the match between the circulating strains looks very good," said Lyn Finelli at the CDC's influenza surveillance program.

Finelli said his organization's recommendations on who should receive the flu vaccine will not change. In fact, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice recently pushed to expand the recommended age to range from 6 months to 18 years old.

While it is still too early to tell how closely the flu vaccine matches the strain this year, researchers noted the improvement in matching the flu strain to the vaccine over the past years. According to the study, only 11 percent of influenza strains across the United States were similar to those in the vaccine during the 2003 to 2004 flu season. The number increased to 36 percent in the 2004 to 2005 season.