Children over 6 months and under 9 years old who haven't received an H1N1 vaccine yet can expect to get two doses of seasonal flu vaccine this fall, if the Centers for Disease Control adopts recommendations from its vaccine advisory committee.
The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to add this recommendation to the usual seasonal flu rules at a regularly scheduled meeting in Atlanta on Thursday.
Young children under the age of 9 who never got the H1N1 or never got seasonal flu vaccine will need to get two seasonal flu shots or sprays, says Dr. Anthony Fiore, a vaccine specialist at the CDC, who presented data to the committee. Children under the age of 6 months are too young to get any flu vaccination.
Each year the three most common strains of flu virus are chosen to be included in the seasonal flu vaccine. Because the H1N1 pandemic virus (also known as swine flu) is still the most prevalent flu virus circulating, the World Health Organization recommended this strain be one of the three strains included in the upcoming flu shots and sprays. U.S. health officials adopted those recommendations earlier this year.
When young children between the ages of 6 months and 9 years get any flu vaccine for the very first time, they have to get two doses anyway. That's because their bodies do not have any real built-in immunity against flu viruses yet. According to the CDC, the first dose of flu vaccine "primes" their immune system and the second dose (given about a month later) provides immune protection. This allows their bodies to built up enough immunity to fend off the flu. If children only get one flu shot the first time they get a flu vaccination, they will get little or no protection from the flu, which can be particularly dangerous for children young than 5 years.
Since the H1N1 vaccine is part of the next seasonal flu shot or spray, even children under 9 who already received two regular seasonal flu vaccines in the past but never got the H1N1 vaccine will have to get two doses of seasonal flu vaccine, because H1N1 is in the seasonal vaccine this coming flu season. Likewise, if the first and only flu vaccine young children received last year was the H1N1 vaccine, they will have to get two seasonal flu shots or spray (depending on their age) too, because they need to be protected against the two other predominant flu strains circulating other than the swine flu virus.
The CDC estimates at least 60 million people or about 20 percent of U.S. population was infected with the pandemic H1N1 flu virus since the spring of 2009.
Children were among the hardest hit by this new virus. CDC estimates from April to November 2009 that between 830 to 1,730 children under the age of 17 died from this flu. Health officials say the best way to protect yourself from getting the flu is to get vaccinated.
However, some parents or medical records may not accurately reflect if a child actually got the H1N1 vaccine, which was not included in last year's flu vaccine because H1N1 emerged after seasonal flu production had already begun.
Since the H1N1 strain will be included in the next seasonal flu shot, and if parents or pediatricians cannot be sure a child got an H1N1 flu shot or spray, flu experts recommend erring on the side of caution and giving young children (between ages 6 months and under age 9) two flu vaccines later this year.
"We're really promoting [flu] vaccine for anybody over six months," says Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
The CDC still has to approve and implement the recommendations of its advisory group.