As an early flu season spreads its misery across the United States, new research shows that few child care centers require children or their adult caregivers to get a flu shot.
Flu can be especially dangerous for children, who have a greater risk than adults for serious complications, hospitalization and even death, the researchers noted.
“When kids are in close proximity to each other in child care centers, they spread infectious diseases very efficiently,” said study author Dr. Timothy Shope, from UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
For the study, Shope’s team analyzed data from a 2016 telephone survey of 518 directors of licensed child care centers in 48 states. The investigators found that only 24.5% said their centers required children to have a flu shot, and only 13% required adult caregivers to have a flu shot.
The study authors also examined a number of factors that might be associated with flu shot requirements at child care centers, including quality indicators for centers, directors’ years of experience, their previous experience with flu outbreaks and state law.
Only state law was associated with a flu shot requirement for children. Directors in the four states that require flu vaccination for children in day care (Connecticut, New Jersey, Ohio and Rhode Island) were more likely to require flu shots at their centers than directors in states without such laws.
The study also found that centers that required flu shots for children were more likely to require them for adult caregivers.
The findings were published online recently in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society.
“The interventions that we use for older children and adults to prevent influenza, such as maintaining a distance of three feet between individuals, and coughing or sneezing into a shoulder or an elbow, don’t work very well for a 2-year-old,” Shope said in a journal news release. “So, the best way we can protect them is through immunization.”
Everyone aged 6 months and older should get a seasonal flu shot, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.
“We can’t depend on child care directors’ experience or knowledge for implementing their own influenza vaccine requirements,” Shope said. “If we’re concerned with the public health of children and preventing influenza morbidity and mortality, we have to legislate the issue.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on children and the flu.