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Here’s why the flu and whooping cough vaccines are important

Two new studies underscore the effectiveness of the influenza and Tdap vaccines.

Two articles released online today in Pediatrics underscore the effectiveness of the influenza and Tdap vaccines. Preventing flu deaths and newborn pertussis can be achieved by getting these two vaccines as recommended.

A study looking at flu-related deaths in children during four recent flu seasons shows that most deaths occurred in unvaccinated children. This adds further evidence that the flu vaccine is effective in preventing flu-related deaths in children. Here's some background and what the study showed:

How many children die of the flu every year?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 12,000 to 56,000 people of all ages die every year from influenza. Such deaths in children are rare and vary, depending on the severity of the flu season. Since 2004, deaths in children due to the flu are notifiable, meaning the states are encouraged to report these deaths to the CDC.

Healthy children die from the flu. It is a misconception that only children with chronic diseases are at risk for flu deaths. Almost half of children dying from the flu are healthy children without any chronic illnesses.

The flu vaccine reduces the chance of flu death. The new article investigated children dying from the flu between 2010 and 2014. Only 26 percent of these children were vaccinated as compared to 48 percent of children not dying from the flu. These numbers show that vaccine effectiveness was 65 percent. This means that a vaccinated child's chance of dying is one-third the chance of an unvaccinated child.

This article underscores the importance of the flu vaccine in not only preventing severe illness and hospitalization but also in preventing death. It also highlights that healthy individuals do die from the flu and that vaccination rates in children remain lower than the Healthy People 2020 target of 70 percent.

The other article in Pediatrics demonstrated the effectiveness of the Tdap vaccine, which is given to mothers during pregnancy. Currently, it is recommended to give mothers Tdap in every pregnancy to decrease the chances that her newborn develops whooping cough.

The study looked at almost 150,000 babies. The babies whose mother received Tdap had 91 percent less chance to get the whooping cough during the first 2 months of life and 65 percent less chance in the first year compared to those born of unvaccinated mothers. This reinforces that Tdap given to moms during pregnancy is effective in preventing whooping cough in newborns and infants.

Why is this important? Whooping cough or pertussis is common. There were 888 cases in Pennsylvania in 2015.

Babies get really sick from it. Whooping cough causes cough spells that may progress to difficult breathing and dehydration, leading to death.

It takes time to protect babies. Children are routinely vaccinated against whooping cough but they remain vulnerable until they receive at least three doses, usually at the age of 6 months. The vaccine given to mothers provides babies with protection due to transfer of antibodies from mom to baby and due to avoidance of maternal infection.

Pertussis is sneaky. Pertussis can be transmitted to your baby and you will not know it. Most adults with whooping cough just appear to have a nasty cold while they are spreading pertussis.

The takeaway? Children's lives and wellbeing are at stake if we do not improve vaccination rates with these two vaccines.

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