October marked Children’s Health Month and also the early part of the 2020-21 influenza season. This co-occurrence serves as an important reminder to vaccinate children against influenza, especially those returning to school. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, schools have increased precautions to reduce transmission by limiting class sizes, offering adjusted schedules and hybrid distance learning programs, and implementing other efforts to maintain social distancing within the classroom. One additional precaution that families can take is receiving timely flu vaccinations this season, especially for those with vulnerable individuals in the household.
For the 2020-21 influenza season, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends routine influenza immunizations for children starting at 6 months of age. This recommendation is particularly important during the current pandemic because flu vaccines will help to reduce hospitalizations due to respiratory illnesses and therefore protect hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients.
Children with Influenza Vaccination: 6 Months – 17 Years
Comparison: U.S. Value (63.8 %)
Period: 2019-2020 Influenza Season
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD)
The map above shows influenza vaccination coverage across all states during the last flu season (September 2019 to May 2020) for children aged 6 months to 17 years. There are 23 states that fall below the U.S. rate (63.8%) and 28 states that have higher percentages. State values range from Mississippi with the lowest value (51.9%) to Rhode Island with the highest (78.3%). Healthy People 2030 – an initiative led by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion – has set a science-based, national target value of vaccinating at least 70% of children aged 6 months to 17 years annually. According to Figure 1, 10 states achieved this target value last season.
In the United States, the rates of influenza-associated hospitalizations for children under 5 consistently exceed the rates for children 5 through 17 years of age, and during the 2019-2020 season, they exceeded the hospitalization rates of adults 50 to 64 years of age.
When looking at differences by race/ethnicity, non-Hispanic black children have the lowest flu vaccination coverage (58.0%) compared to all other racial/ethnic groups (Table 1). Considering healthcare’s increased discussion of health equity and racial justice, shining a spotlight on a disparity such as this can help focus outreach and advocacy efforts to ensure that all racial groups have equal flu vaccination coverage.
Table 2 shows children vaccination rates by age group during the 2019-20 season, with an average of 63.8% of children (6 months to 17 years old) estimated to have received the flu vaccine. As shown, 75.5% of children 6 months to 4 years old were vaccinated compared to 60.2% of school-aged children (5-17 years old). Returning to school during the current pandemic emphasizes the importance of children receiving the influenza vaccination, which is the best protection against the flu according to the CDC.
While the flu vaccine will not protect against COVID-19, it can reduce the potential comorbidity of both respiratory illnesses for vulnerable populations as well as preserve hospital and emergency room resources for patients with other illnesses, including COVID-19.