This op-ed appeared on the Detroit News. Read more here.
When the winter influenza season kicked off in 2022, those of us who pay close attention to vaccination rates and their success in preventing serious illness were hopeful. With the COVID-19 pandemic fading into endemic status, we hoped that Michigan residents would embrace the flu vaccine for themselves and their children. We hoped this season’s vaccine would be a good match with the dominant flu strains expected to cause the most serious illnesses, especially with a potentially late flu season.
As a pediatrician, I was pleased to learn that this year’s flu vaccine is highly effective in preventing flu-related hospitalizations, especially among children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, the CDC cautions that we could see a late flu surge, so getting your flu shot is still strongly recommended.
The success of this year’s flu vaccine is welcome news to a medical community still recovering from the extraordinary stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic and the wave of RSV-related hospitalizations earlier this season primarily affecting children. The last thing we wanted to see was a flood of serious flu-related illness and hospitalizations that would once again strain our capacity to treat patients and save lives.
We know the flu can be a very serious illness that can lead to death, especially for children and vulnerable adults.
Michigan’s first pediatric flu death of the season was announced in February in Ingham County, and there have been two more since then. Across the nation, the flu has taken the lives of more than 100 infants and children this season. While any loss of life due to flu complications is devastating, the death of a child is particularly tragic. It reminds us of the vital role vaccines play in reducing the worst impacts of highly transmissible, but vaccine-preventable diseases like COVID-19 and the flu and highlights the importance of making sure your family is protected.
Let’s take a moment to drill down on the data released by the CDC’s flu experts last month. They noted that this season’s vaccine was 44% effective in preventing adult lab-confirmed flu visits to urgent care clinics and hospital emergency rooms, and 39% effective for seniors ages 65 and older. The vaccine was 43% effective against flu-related hospitalizations of all adults, and 35% against flu hospitalizations of seniors. In kids, the vaccine was 68% effective in preventing illnesses severe enough to require hospitalization.
These statistics confirm that the flu vaccine saves lives while protecting our health care systems from being overwhelmed. Looking back at the 2021-2022 flu season, the CDC estimated that flu vaccination prevented 1.8 million flu-related illnesses, 1 million medical visits, 22,000 hospitalizations, and nearly 1,000 deaths.
Annual flu vaccines are recommended for everyone 6 months and older in the U.S. Nationally, about half of eligible kids and just under half of adults got flu shots in the last several months, according to CDC data. Here in Michigan, more than 3 million people got their flu shot this season compared to a statewide goal of 4 million vaccinations, yet 70% of Michigan residents remain unvaccinated. We can make these numbers much better — and prevent even more illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths — if more people get vaccinated. The flu remains active in Michigan, and it is not too late to get your flu vaccine.
Learn more about influenza and the flu vaccine, including locations where you can obtain COVID and flu shots, by visiting michigan.gov/flu or IVaccinate.org.
Abeba Berhane, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician at the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids and assistant professor at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. She currently serves as president of the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.