It’s not always “just the flu.” While many kids will suffer through a few gross days of fever, achiness and fatigue, a certain percentage of children actually die of influenza each year, with kids who have pre-existing conditions like asthma especially at risk. But, according to a new study, getting the flu shot can cut the risk of death by more than half.
The study, which was conducted by researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the journal Pediatrics, showed that receiving the flu shot cuts the risk of dying from the flu in half for kids with underlying conditions like asthma, cerebral palsy or a weakened immune system. And among healthy kids, it cut the risk of death by 65 percent.
This was the first study of its kind to prove that getting the flu shot really does significantly reduces a child’s risk of dying from the flu—a virus we often assume to be uncomfortable but harmless. Researchers looked at flu seasons from 2010 to 2014, during which 358 kids died in the United States from complications from the flu. Of those whose flu shot history was known, just one in four had been vaccinated.
Depending on how bad the flu season is, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that anywhere from 37 to 171 child deaths in the United States have been recorded per season. And in Canada this past year, about 700 children up to age 19 were hospitalized for influenza, including more than 400 under the age of five.
The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that all children over six months get the flu shot. It’s especially crucial for kids under five years old, and also for those who have a heart, lung or neurological disorder; diabetes, anemia or kidney disease; or a chronic condition that weakens the immune system. Those kids are at greater risk of developing more serious complications.
There are other reasons to vaccinate, too. Because the elderly are also at risk for complications, it’s a good idea to protect kids (and yourself!) so there’s less likelihood you might pass the virus onto grandma or grandpa.
So mark your calendar to get your kid the shot next fall—immunization clinics generally begin in October and November. After all, while it isn’t always “just the flu,” it’s often "just a shot" that can prevent it.