A new study shows that the flu vaccine helps prevent flu-related deaths in children. And a second study, also published Monday in Pediatrics, adds to evidence that pregnant women who receive the pertussis, or whooping cough, vaccine pass on the protection to their unborn babies.
For the influenza study, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed 358 flu deaths of U.S. children ages 6 months through 17 years from July 2010 through June 2014.
The study estimated the vaccine to have an effectiveness rate of 65 percent against flu-associated fatalities among children who were otherwise healthy. For children who had high-risk underlying conditions, such as neurologic disorders and lung diseases, the effectiveness rate was 51 percent.
“This is more evidence for the flu vaccine providing protection against disease and the severe complications that lead to [flu-related] deaths,” said Brendan Flannery, an epidemiologist with the CDC’s influenza division.
The research compared the pediatric flu fatality cases with data about children in the general population during the same period. Among the children who died and whose vaccine status could be determined, the vaccination rate was 26 percent; the comparison group's rate was about 48 percent, Flannery said.
“Increasing influenza vaccination could prevent influenza-associated deaths among children and adolescents,” the study stated.
The pertussis study was performed by the Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Study Center in Oakland, Calif. The children were all born at Kaiser Permanente Northern California between 2010 and 2015.
The study’s results affirm CDC recommendations that pregnant women be vaccinated between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy to guard their newborns against pertussis, or whooping cough, which can be fatal to infants. Children cannot get the vaccines directly until they are 2 months old, when they get their first Dtap inoculation, which also protects against diphtheria and tetanus.
Nicola Klein, a lead researcher in the study, said the results showed the maternal vaccine, Tdap, is very effective in protecting babies in the first two months of life. The benefits of the vaccine are passed on to the developing fetus through the placenta.
In addition, the research showed that the maternal vaccine adds to the protection babies receive when they are old enough to get the vaccine directly.
The maternal vaccine during pregnancy is estimated to have reduced babies’ risk of pertussis by more than 91 percent.
No scientific evidence of a link between vaccines and autism has ever been found, but doubters persist. On Friday, anti-vaccine protesters rallied in Washington, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
STAT, a health news service, reported that Kennedy accused the media, drug companies and the government of a conspiracy to cover up a link he has alleged between vaccines and autism. Scientists have refuted any such link.
President Trump has also expressed skepticism about the safety of vaccines, particularly for children. Earlier this year, Trump met with Kennedy, who emerged from the meeting saying they spoke about the possibility of his serving on a presidential committee to look into vaccines.