Children and the Flu Vaccine

Yesterday a CDC federal advisory panel voted to recommend annual flu vaccines for all children from age 6 months to 18 years. If followed, it would bring about the largest expansion of flu vaccine coverage in history, necessitating about 30 million children being vaccinated every single year.

All of this despite the fact that the flu vaccine has not been shown to be effective for all children. Up to age two it is no more effective than a placebo at preventing flu. And for older children the problems with the flu vaccine remain the same as for any other group.

The conclusions of the Chocrane Study is as follows (bolding mine):

Influenza vaccines are efficacious in children older than two years, but little evidence is available for children younger than two years. There was a marked difference between vaccine efficacy and effectiveness. That no safety comparisons could be carried out emphasizes the need for standardization of methods and presentation of vaccine safety data in future studies. It was surprising to find only one study of inactivated vaccine in children younger than two years given recent recommendations to vaccinate healthy children from six months of age in the United States and Canada. If immunization in children is to be recommended as public health policy, large-scale studies assessing important outcomes and directly comparing vaccine types are urgently required. 

Because the flu virus changes so rapidly a new vaccine is required every year, and in some years (this one, for example), is barely effective because they guessed wrong, and didn’t put the “right” strains of the flue virus in the vaccine.

In children, the flu is only rarely deadly, though it does cause school absenteeism. Support for extending flu vaccination to children was provided by a 2-year study which found a high rate of seroconversion, though there was only a small decrease in the rate of flu in the first year and no difference in the second year. In school-age children, it may help to prevent children missing school.

Despite all of this though, the CDC is now recommending that all children from 6 months to 18 years receive flu vaccines. Despite the fact that it is no more effective than a placebo up till 2 years old, and after that prevents little more than children missing school and parents missing work. But I suppose that is enough to soon make it mandatory. The mandate for the chickenpox vaccine used the same logic, and as we all now know is a scary, horrible, sometimes fatal disease.

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