Last season’s flu epidemic is now estimated to have killed 80,000 Americans — the highest level for at least 4 decades — and caused the death of 180 children. Many of these deaths could have been prevented with flu vaccinations, public health officials said Thursday.
They made these announcements as they kicked off their #FightFlu vaccination campaign.
According to U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, even when the vaccine’s effectiveness is not as high as hoped, as happened last season, the shots or FluMist can still boost the immune system enough to limit how hard the virus hits as well as minimizing its spread.
Worrisome trends seen last year, officials said, include lower vaccination rates for 3 vulnerable populations:
- Children aged 6 months to 17 years old: Vaccinations among this group dropped to 57.9%. “The decline in coverage in this age group is very, very worrisome,” Adams said. 80% of the 180 children who died from the flu last season in 2017–2018 weren’t vaccinated.
- Pregnant women: Vaccinations among this group fell to 49.1% and affect the ability of newborns to fight the flu as well.
- Health care workers: Vaccinations among this group slipped to 78.4%, particularly in long-term care workers.
The big picture: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends anyone 6 months and older receive the flu shot or FluMist before the last week of October, since it takes 2 weeks for antibodies to generate, said Daniel Jernigan, head of the CDC’s influenza division.
- Jernigan said the number of estimated deaths from the 2017–2018 season increased after the CDC searched thoroughly through hospital data. “Last year was just a horrible season,” he said, and added that the flu mimicked what happened in Australia.