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12/5/18blog post

one child death from the flu is one too many

increasing access to and knowledge of the flu vaccine

guest blog by Bethany Linegang, infection preventionist at Dayton Children's Hospital

Prior to the summer of 2009, I really didn’t think about immunizing my children or myself for the flu.  My three children received them at their well-child check up every year, but if they hadn’t already been there, I might not have sought out an extra appointment to make sure they were covered.  At the hospital, the flu shot was still optional and I never made it a priority.  Then the unthinkable happened.  One of my kindergartener’s classmates passed away during the H1N1 epidemic.  He was a perfectly healthy, energetic boy.  We were all suddenly in a panic to stand in long lines at UD arena with thousands of our neighbors to get the flu vaccine to protect our children.  I happened to see the mother and older child of this classmate in the line, waiting for hours for their immunizations just days after their beloved child and brother died, and I remember thinking, ‘we can do better.’  We can do better for our patients, for our children, for our staff. 

We did a little better for our staff and patients when in 2011, Dayton Children’s became the first local hospital to mandate flu vaccinations for their staff.  It is a requirement for employment unless you have a medical, religious or personal belief waiver.  So we were better prepared in 2014, when we had one of the worst seasonal flu outbreaks in our area. And still I kept thinking, ‘we need to do better.’  Dr. Sherman Alter, chief of the division of infectious disease, and I kept brainstorming how we could improve our flu vaccination rates.  Anecdotally we knew they were low.  During the 2017 season, we collected data that told us our pediatric patients are only vaccinated for the flu 30 percent of the time.  During that season, we had two kids die from the flu and almost 300 hospitalizations at Dayton Children’s.  We kept pushing to do better - by having the flu shot available to anyone age 7 and older in our outpatient pharmacies beginning this October.

However, we still need to do better.  We need our health care providers at the hospital and in the community to have the tough conversations with our families about their fears around vaccinations.  We need to be able to listen to them, and dispel those fears with accurate science.  We need to share with them our personal experiences regarding children who have been hospitalized with the flu or even died from the flu.  We need to find a way to make sure that every child in our area has access to flu immunizations at a time that makes it convenient for our families.  We are working on these issues – and we will do better.

We need you, the parents, to understand that we hear you.  Your time is limited, pediatricians are limited, vaccination clinics are hard to find and lastly immunizations are not perfect.  They do not provide 100 percent protection, but they provide better protection than not having them at all.  By vaccinating your child against the flu, they have 40-70 percent protection against the circulating viruses, and even when they do get the flu, are less likely to have severe symptoms.  They are able to stay in school, and keep those around them who are unable to be vaccinated – such as newborn babies - well this flu season.  This is the best way we know how to protect them.  Do we hope that vaccines against the flu get better and better every year?  Absolutely, but even 40 percent is better than zero. And even one child death from the flu is too many.