CDC releases effectiveness data for children and seniors

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Paquita Bonillo, 84, receives her fourth dose of the COVID-19 and flu vaccine in the garden of the Fexa Larga Nursing Home on September 26, 2022 in Barcelona, ​​Spain.

Zowie Woten | Getty Images

The flu vaccine has been 68% effective at preventing hospitalizations in children, but has been less protective for seniors this season, according to preliminary data released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The vaccine was 35% effective in preventing hospitalization in seniors in one study, and 42% in another analysis.

For people with weakened immune systems, the vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalization by 44% in one study and 30% in another.

The flu hit early this season, according to CDC data, as weekly hospitalization rates peaked in December and have declined since then. Flu has caused 25 million illnesses, 280,000 hospitalizations, and 18,000 deaths since October. More than 100 children have died from the flu this season.

Flu cases last declined two years after the virus was transmitted at low levels due to masking and social distancing measures put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Jose Romero, head of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said the simultaneous spread of COVID, flu and respiratory syncytial virus has put significant strain on hospitals and drug supply chains in the US

“After a brief and anticipated increase in hospitalizations and cases around the holidays, we are now seeing a sustained decrease in Covid, influenza and RSV cases and hospitalizations,” Romero told the CDC’s Independent Advisory Committee on Wednesday.

“While influenza activity is declining, it is possible that there could be a second wave later in the season as has happened in the past,” Romero said.

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Children and seniors are usually at the highest risk of severe illness from the flu. According to data from the CDC, by the end of January about 52% of children and 70% of seniors had received the flu vaccine. The CDC recommends seasonal vaccinations for everyone 6 months of age and older.

The effectiveness of flu vaccines can vary widely from season to season, depending on how well the strains included in the shots match the circulating viruses. Dr. Lisa Grohskopf, a CDC official, said that vaccines and circulating flu strains this season are a fairly consistent match.

Last time, hospitals were shocked by the simultaneous outbreak of Covid, flu and respiratory syncytial virus. The Children’s Hospital Association in November called on the Biden administration to declare a public health emergency, calling the increase in hospitalized children “alarming” at the time.

While there are widely available Covid and flu shots, no vaccine exists for RSV. Several companies are developing shots for older adults that could get Food and Drug Administration approval this year.

Pfizer is developing a vaccine that protects infants from RSV, and Sanofi has asked the FDA to approve an antibody called nirsevimab that also protects children as young as two years old.

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