• Children's Center

    Risk of flu-related death higher for unvaccinated children

a sick child, a little girl in bed having her temperature taken with a thermometer

Most children who die from the flu are not vaccinated. That's according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published online April 3 in Pediatrics. The article says this is the first study of its kind showing that flu vaccination significantly reduces a child’s risk of dying from influenza.

"The study, which looked at data from four flu seasons between 2010 and 2014, found that flu vaccination reduced the risk of flu-associated death by half (51 percent) among children with underlying high-risk medical conditions and by nearly two-thirds (65 percent) among healthy children. The study findings underscore the importance of the recommendation by CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics that all children 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccine." - CDC news release

Lead author and CDC epidemiologist Dr. Brendan Flannery says, “Every year, the CDC receives reports of children who died from the flu. This study tells us that we can prevent more of these deaths by vaccinating more. We looked at four seasons when we know from other studies that the vaccine prevented flu illness, and we found consistent protection against flu deaths in children.”

Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a Mayo Clinic pediatric infectious diseases specialist who was not involved with the study, says, "It shows that this protective effect is seen in both children who have medical conditions that would increase their risk of dying from the flu, such as underlying heart or lung disease, but importantly that this benefit extends to healthy children, as well."

She continues, "It is impossible to predict which healthy children will develop a mild flu illness with maybe some fever, cough, and runny nose, and which child will develop more severe illness and need to be admitted to hospital or possibly die from influenza infection. This is why it is important that all children over 6 months of age get vaccinated every year." 

Dr. Rajapakse says the types of influenza covered in the flu vaccine vary each year based on which viruses are predicted to be circulating during the flu season. "This is why it is important to get vaccinated every year. The flu vaccine is safe and one of the best strategies we have to prevent influenza infection."

Common signs and symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius)
  • Aching muscles, especially in your back, arms and legs
  • Chills and sweats
  • Headache
  • Dry, persistent cough
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sore throat

Risk factors

Factors that may increase your risk of developing influenza or its complications include:

  • Age Seasonal influenza tends to target young children and older adults.
  • Living conditions  People who live in facilities along with many other residents, such as nursing homes or military barracks, are more likely to develop influenza.
  • Weakened immune system  Cancer treatments, anti-rejection drugs, corticosteroids and HIV/AIDS can weaken your immune system. This can make it easier for you to catch influenza and may also increase your risk of developing complications.
  • Chronic illnesses  Chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or heart problems, may increase your risk of influenza complications.
  • Pregnancy  Pregnant women are more likely to develop influenza complications, particularly in the second and third trimesters. Women who are two weeks postpartum are also more likely to develop influenza-related complications.
  • Obesity  People with a body mass index of 40 or more have an increased risk of complications from the flu.


If you're young and healthy, seasonal influenza usually isn't serious. Although you may feel miserable while you have it, the flu usually goes away in a week or two with no lasting effects. But high-risk children and adults may develop complications such as:

  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Asthma flare-ups
  • Heart problems
  • Ear infections

Pneumonia is the most serious complication. For older adults and people with a chronic illness, pneumonia can be deadly.