Skeptical Raptor's Blog hunting pseudoscience in the internet jungle

Why we vaccinate–mandatory flu vaccines reduce risk of hospitalization

flu-shot-smiley-faceAccording to the unsurprising results reported in a new study, published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, in areas where laws mandate that children receive a seasonal flu vaccination, before entering preschool or day care, the rate of flu-related hospitalizations drops significantly. In this study, after Connecticut enacted a law that mandated the vaccine, the rate of children requiring hospitalization because of the flu declined by 12%.

Connecticut’s regulation for flu vaccination (pdf), which took effect in 2010, increased the uptake of childhood flu vaccinations from 67.8% to 84.1%. According to Dr. James Hadler, the lead researcher for the study, “That difference, we feel, has resulted in children attending daycare being better protected against influenza and its severe complications.”

Even though Connecticut’s regulations for flu vaccination allows for some exemptions (the child has a scheduled appoint for the shot soon after the start of school, medical contraindication, or religious belief), it’s obvious that the effort was highly successful in driving up the level of uptake of the flu vaccination, a vaccine that is often ignored by parents for occasionally odd reasons.

Since 2010, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that everyone older than six months should get a flu shot every year. Unfortunately, only New Jersey and New York City mandate the flu vaccine (along with all other vaccines recommended by the CDC at that age group). With this evidence, it is possible that other states will include the flu vaccine in the vaccination requirements for children entering school.

Parents seem to think that the flu is not very dangerous, so they tend to ignore the flu shot, even if they are strongly pro-vaccine for almost all of the other vaccines available for themselves or their children. Sadly, this year’s flu season is actually taking an larger toll on younger and middle-aged Americans, since so many of them neglect to get the vaccine. The influenza strain commonly known as “swine flu” is killing young and healthy people who typically don’t think they need to worry about this illness.

There is a belief that the flu is only dangerous to the very young, the very old or those with chronic diseases. However, many flu pandemics are not that particular about what age group is most affected. The infamous Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 is a case in point. Over 99% of the deaths were in individuals under the age of 65, and more than 50% of the deaths were in young adults, 20-40 years old.

Even though it’s late in the flu season, it’s not too late to get the flu shot, whether adult or child. And when the 2014 flu season starts, make sure you’re vaccinated then.

Oh, one more thing. This type of actual retrospective epidemiological data provides evidence that the flu vaccine is highly effective. Another trope of the antivaccination cult circling the drain of pseudoscience.

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