CDC Panel Urges Extending Flu Vaccine Coverage for Kids

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By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter
Wednesday, February 27, 2008; 12:00 AM

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 27 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. health advisers recommended Wednesday that all children 6 months to 18 years of age receive annual flu shots.

Currently, the recommendation is that children 6 months to 5 years of age get vaccinated.

The recommendation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices would cover an additional 30 million children, making it one of the largest expansions of flu vaccination coverage in U.S. history.

The committee is recommending that the new guidelines take effect no later than the 2009-10 flu season, noting that many doctors have already ordered their vaccine for the 2008-09 season. The panel's recommendations are typically followed by the CDC, which issues vaccination guidelines to doctors and hospitals.

"Each season, many children remain vulnerable to the consequences of not being vaccinated against influenza," U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard H. Carmona said in a prepared statement. "We hope this expanded vaccination recommendation will strongly encourage Americans to get an annual influenza vaccination as soon as vaccine becomes available in their communities. This will help in reducing the number of childhood hospitalizations and deaths from influenza each season."

The flu kills dozens of U.S. children annually, part of the estimated 36,000 Americans who die each year from the disease. So far this season, there have been more than 10 reported deaths of children. During the 2006-07 flu season, 68 children died.

Children tend to come down with the flu at higher rates than adults but usually don't get as sick. Health officials hope that extending vaccine coverage will also benefit adults, making them less likely to be infected by children.

"Influenza is a serious, deadly illness that needs to have a vaccination each and every year," said Richard Kanowitz, president of Families Fighting Flu, who lost a 4-year-old daughter to influenza in 2004.

Kanowitz's group was one of those supporting expanding the age range for flu vaccination.

In 2006, the CDC expanded the recommendation to include children up to 5 years old.

"We want the recommendation expanded, because we hear even to this day people say, 'The recommendation doesn't apply to me. I don't have to get vaccinated.' It's completely the opposite," Kanowitz said. "You need to get vaccinated. The CDC just puts out a recommendation, and the confusion over whether people need to get vaccinated needs to be dispelled by having a clear message -- everyone should get vaccinated. The more people who get vaccinated, the more lives get saved."

This year's flu season has hit many areas of the country hard. Adding to the severity of the flu outbreak, this year's vaccine is not well matched to the current strains of flu most prevalent in the United States.


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