This year's flu season is among the worst outbreaks in years, with over 3,800 hospitalizations already reported. It's prompted Senator Amy Klobuchar to, this week, call for increased research into a more effective flu vaccine. She and others in Congress plan to introduce legislation, called the Flu Vaccine Act, that will fund additional research.
Preliminary figures released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Thursday suggest this season's flu vaccine is 36 percent effective. But there is one piece of good news: In children younger than 9, it offers much better protection, reducing by more than half the risk of becoming so sick that they need to see a doctor. Children younger than 5, and especially those younger than 2, are among the groups at highest risk for developing flu-related complications, per the CDC. At this young age, kids lack fully-developed immune systems needed to fight the virus.
Risk is further escalated for children who have complex medical conditions. The CDC describes this high-risk group as “people who have neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions, including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, stroke, intellectual disability, moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury.”
For medically fragile children, vaccination isn’t a question. It’s a necessity. And for those around them, it’s a responsibility. "Flu vaccines are so important for children who have complex conditions because they are more vulnerable to complications from sickness,” says Madeleine Gagnon, MD, a complex care pediatrician at Gillette. “Coughing and swallowing can already be difficult for a child who has low muscle function, and the flu only makes these symptoms harder to manage.”
While not 100 percent foolproof, a flu vaccination is still the best protection against a serious case of the flu. Thorough hand-washing, avoiding close contact (if possible) with those who are sick, getting plenty of rest and proper nutrition can also help bolster the immune system.