WASHINGTON – Far too few young children get annual flu shots, particularly those who are most at risk of serious illness or death because they have asthma or other chronic diseases.
A survey released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that only about one-third of children between age 6 months and 2 years get a flu vaccination. A different survey, conducted by state health departments, says about 48 percent of children in that same age group are getting their flu vaccine.
“The real message is, no matter what survey you look at, we’re nowhere near protecting the number of children that we’re supposed to,” said Dr. Jeanne Santoli, a pediatrician at the CDC.
This year, medical experts have expanded the age range of children who should be vaccinated. Health officials now say children between 6 months and 5 years should get flu shots; previously the range was 6 months to 2 years. Many parents may not be aware of the change.
Regardless of age, if children have such chronic conditions as asthma or diabetes, they should get a flu vaccine. However, only about a third of children in the high-risk categories do.
The primary reason for the low vaccination rates is that many Americans don’t take flu seriously. Less than half of the people who responded to a consumer survey plan to be immunized against the flu this year, says the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Of that group, 43 percent did not think the flu was serious enough to warrant vaccination.
Many others, 46 percent, worried that getting a vaccine would cause them to get sick. Occasionally, people getting the vaccine experience a mild fever and fatigue for a day, but recipients cannot get the flu from the vaccine. “That’s a very persistent myth, but a myth nonetheless,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor at Vanderbilt University.