BLOOMINGTON - Children up to age 5 years - not just to 23 months - should get a flu shot, according to a new federal proposal.
Central Illinois health officials said Thursday that they agreed with the idea.
"It would limit the spread of disease significantly," said Bob Keller, director of the McLean County Health Department.
Dr. David S. Marley, a family practice physician with Carle Clinic in Bloomington, agreed.
"I certainly think it's a good idea," Marley said. "We want to reduce hospitalizations and doctor visits of children at that young age." Some of those hospitalizations and office visits are because of complications of influenza.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted in Atlanta, Ga., to expand the influenza vaccination recommendation to include children ages 6 months to 5 years old. The current recommendation is ages 6 months to 23 months.
The committee also voted to expand the vaccination recommendation to anyone who spends a significant amount of time with those children at home, as well as out-of-home caregivers.
Keller expects the recommendation to be accepted by the CDC director and the secretary of health and human services and passed down to the states within a few months. If that happens, the recommendation could take effect for the 2006-07 flu season.
"Research shows that children up to age 5 have as many outpatient visits as children up to 23 months old," Keller said.
Children younger than school age have developing immune systems. Meanwhile, many of them are in day-care settings, many of them are still learning the importance of hand washing, and some spend significant time with older adults who may have compromised immune systems, Keller said.
For those reasons, children to age 5 not only are susceptible to influenza but are carriers of influenza, Keller said. By immunizing more of them, the spread of the disease should be limited.
Marley said Carle doctors already give a flu shot to children up to age 5 if their parents request it - especially if the children have younger siblings.
Keller said it was proper that the committee made the recommendation based on medical reasons rather than considering the vaccine supply. Still, he and Marley questioned whether pharmaceutical companies would be ready to handle the increased demand for vaccine if the recommendation is approved.
Keller didn't know how many more doses would be needed. He said about 100 million doses were manufactured in the United States for the 2005-2006 flu season and about 93 million have been used.
Keller and Marley said this flu season has been milder than usual so far. More people were vaccinated this season and some people remember the tips to reduce their risk of flu that went out during the 2004-05 vaccine shortage, Keller said.