CDC: ‘Concerning’ data show drop in kids getting flu shots as influenza hits Wisconsin

Doctors say kids beginning at 6 months old should get vaccinated for the flu every year.
Doctors say kids beginning at 6 months old should get vaccinated for the flu every year.(KOLN)
Published: Dec. 13, 2021 at 5:29 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Wisconsin has the attention of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it’s not necessarily good recognition.

The health agency looked at data from 11 states or jurisdictions to see if more people received flu shots during the pandemic.

While the number increased for teens and adults, data shows it dropped significantly for young children.

“Getting a flu vaccine this year is probably more important than ever,” says Dr. Tom Huffer, a Prevea pediatrician and executive medical director of HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital in Green Bay.

He understands the resistance he could get for saying people need to be worried about the flu this year, but he’s saying it anyway.

“It’s interesting because I feel a little bit like the boy who cried wolf, because last year, ‘Oh, well if you get COVID and flu, you could get a severe case,’ (but it) is still true today,” says Huffer.

And maybe even more so.

He believes having essentially no flu last year is causing hesitancy in the need for a vaccine this year.

“We are definitely seeing that. I guess the way I would say it is COVID fatigue is giving us influenza fatigue as well,” says Huffer.

A CDC study highlights his concerns: Data from 11 states, including Wisconsin, show overall, nine percent more people received flu vaccines last year, during a COVID surge, compared to the two years prior.

But the data show most of those vaccinations were among teens and adults.

The study shows a nearly 14 percent drop in babies 6- to 23-months old, and a nearly 12 percent drop in 2- to 4-year olds being vaccinated for influenza last year.

“I was surprised, frankly. I thought we had done a pretty good job of vaccinating our children last year, but I will say, I can tell that we are way behind last year, this year, in terms of our immunization for influenza,” says Huffer.

Dr. Huffer is concerned about lower vaccination rates for the flu in those young ages because those kids are not eligible for a COVID vaccine, and he says they are more susceptible to complications from other illnesses and viruses along with the flu.

The CDC cites a few possible reasons for the drop in vaccinations: People being concerned they could contract COVID just by going to a doctor’s office; kids not getting their well-baby checkups in the first place; and parents thinking kids masking, social distancing and schooled virtually decreasing their overall risk of getting the flu.

Dr. Huffer is worried it’s not turning around this year.

“I looked at all the 2-year-olds, and it was a shocking number how many of our 2-year-olds have not been immunized for influenza. It was a very high number,” he said.

It’s happening as flu is confirmed in Wisconsin.

Graphs and data from the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene show the trends, identifying a jump to more than 400 positive flu cases in the first full week of December.

Dr. Huffer is worried what this means for his youngest patients.

“Once every couple of years most of us will get the flu, so that gives us some immunity so we might not get it next year -- we might get it a couple years later -- but now we’ve gone a whole year where nobody has that immunity from last year,” explains Huffer. “We’re expecting more people than normal to get flu this year because nobody got it last year.”

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