Youths skip vaccines

Children need flu vaccinations even more than adults, yet in Michigan the rate of pediatric vaccinations is the fifth lowest in the nation, putting the state’s children at risk of severe illness and even death, according to information released last month by the
Michigan Department of Community Health.

To add to the danger, flu has arrived a month early in Washtenaw County, with a confirmed case of influenza B in Ypsilanti among the first in the state, according to the Washtenaw County Health Department, which also reported no hospitalizations or deaths yet for the 2011-2012 flu season.

“Everyone six months and older should get flu vaccine every year,” the Health Department advises. “This means you. This season, protect yourself – and those around you – by getting vaccinated.”

The MDCH’s concern about pediatric influenza led it to hold a press conference on the subject last month.

“Michigan ranks 5th from the bottom in flu vaccination coverage in children six months through four years; a little more than half—51.2 percent— of kids in this age group were vaccinated during the 2010-11 flu season,” the MDCH warns. “The national average was 63.6 percent.”

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, states that there were 115 influenza-associated pediatric deaths reported nationwide from September 2010 through August 2011. Six deaths were Michigan children.

Angela Minicuci, Public Information Officer for the MDCH described the effect of flu on a child.

“This report [from the CDC] underscores the fact that young age in itself is a risk factor, and being a healthy child does not necessarily mean that child can withstand a bout of the flu,” Minicuci said. “Forty-six percent of children who died were younger than 5 years of age and 29 percent were younger than two years. The other half of the children who died did have medical conditions that predisposed them to being at a greater risk of flu complications.”

Assistant Professor of Nursing Laurie Blondy, a certified pediatric nurse practitioner who has a J.D., Ph.D. and two nursing degrees, explained why it is so important to vaccinate children:

“Influenza may initially look like a cold, but it’s often worse in terms of the range of symptoms and severity,” Blondy said.

“Children with influenza can easily miss a week or more of school, since they may feel quite ill and are contagious until the fever and cough have resolved. This can have major impacts academically for the child, and financially for working parents. In addition, younger children are especially at risk for complications, such as ear infections, bronchitis, pneumonia and dehydration.”

Professor Blondy also commented on the significance of adult actions for the health of children:

“Influenza is spread through respiratory secretions so coughing and sneezing without appropriately covering your mouth and poor hand washing when you are ill with influenza, can contribute to the spread of the virus,” Blondy said. “If people have been vaccinated against influenza, they are less likely to come down with this illness, and therefore also less likely to spread it to others.”

When asked for an opinion about why more parents don’t vaccinate their children against influenza, she said:

“I’d venture to guess that one of the biggest barriers is a lack of understanding of just how serious the influenza virus can be in children, as well as a lack of understanding regarding the risks and benefits of the vaccine.”

Ms. Minicuci also commented on the low rate of vaccinations.

“Unfortunately, we do not know why Michigan’s rate is so much lower which is why it’s important to educate Michiganders about the necessity to vaccine children to protect them.”

“Many residents may not know that the vaccine is available to them which is why MDCH is drawing attention to this need,” MDCH said. “There is not a shortage of vaccines this year and many local health departments, pharmacies and health care clinics across the state can provide the vaccine.

We want to raise awareness with parents and healthcare providers that this age group needs to be protected with the flu vaccine, in addition to the other vaccines that they receive at this vulnerable age.”

The MDCH’s MI FluFocus website reported Thursday that nationally, “Influenza activity remained low in the United States,” but that Maine, “has confirmed a second human case of swine-origin novel H3N2 flu virus with 2009 H1N1 genetic material.”

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is also of great concern to the Washtenaw Health Department, which says that “in 2010 pertussis was at a record high with 233 cases reported in Washtenaw County residents. In 2011, as of July 12, twenty-one cases have been reported which is still above normal levels. The total number of cases for 2009 was 84, which had been the highest number seen in years.”

Snow Health Center offers flu vaccines for $30, with the option of either live intranasal for healthy children or inactivated by injection; and a combine tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis vaccine for $55. Nurses at the health center give vaccinations from 9-11 a.m. Mondays and Wednesdays. Wednesday vaccinations will also be given from 5-7 p.m. Call 734-487-1122 for more information.

The 2010-11 seasonal flu vaccine, used throughout the state, now covers the 2009 H1N1 similar strain, so that a separate H1N1 swine flu vaccine is not needed, according to Ms. Minicuci.

St. Joseph Mercy located at 5301 McAuley Drive offers flu shots in registered pharmacies, the Reichert Building and the Main Tower. For more information, call 734-712-3456.
The Washtenaw County Public Health Department also offers flu shots for $20. Appointments can be scheduled by calling 734-544-6700.

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