Flu killed and sent more people in the United States to the hospital last winter than any other season in recent history, according to new data released Thursday.
And in Minnesota, more than 6,400 people were hospitalized and five children died from influenza or related complications last year.
Those stark numbers underscore how severe the flu can be and come with a warning from state public health officials who say that not enough children are being vaccinated.
“Since children can’t make the decision to get vaccinated themselves, it’s up to parents and health care providers to make it happen,” Kris Ehresmann, director of the Minnesota Department of Health’s infectious disease division, said in a prepared statement.
About 62 percent of Minnesota children between the ages of 6 months and 17 years received vaccinations during the 2017-18 influenza season, which is an increase from previous years, according to a news release announcing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
Minnesota’s rate was slightly higher than the national overall vaccination rate of 57.9 percent.
But that’s not enough, health officials say.
Of the 172 children across the country who died last year, 74 percent were not vaccinated, according to the CDC.
“We still have too many children left unprotected from this potentially serious disease,” Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in the news release. “The flu vaccine protects those who receive it as well as those in the community who cannot be vaccinated due to medical conditions.”
Health officials recommend that all children 6 months and older get the vaccine each year before the end of October.
As children get older, they are less likely to receive the vaccine, according to survey data in Minnesota.
About 75 percent of children ages 6 months to 4 years are receiving the vaccine. From ages 5 to 12 years, only 65 percent are vaccinated. And for children ages 13 to 17, the numbers drop to 50 percent.
“That suggests influenza vaccination may be related to ‘convenience’ or how often children of different ages visit their health care provider,” according to the statement.
Health officials stressed that the flu vaccine is available from a variety of sources including clinics, pharmacies, local health agencies and workplaces.