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Pediatric flu vaccination rates lag in North Dakota as infections rise

Last week alone, North Dakota reported 300 additional influenza cases, which is more than the 245 cases the state reported during all of the 2020-21 flu season, according to the North Dakota Department of Health.

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Boxes hold containers of the influenza virus vaccine Fluzone.
Bob King / Forum News Service file photo
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BISMARCK — North Dakota has already reported more cases of influenza this season alone compared to all of last flu season, and officials are seeing a significant decline in the number of people receiving their flu shot, especially those ages 6 months through 17 years old.

Last week alone, North Dakota reported 300 additional influenza cases, which is more than the 245 cases the state reported during all of the 2020-21 flu season, according to the North Dakota Department of Health. The U.S. last year experienced an uncharacteristically mild flu season because many people were vigilantly taking precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19, such as mask-wearing and social distancing, which also curbed the transmission of influenza.

A typical flu season ranges between October and May of each year, and officials say the optimal time to get inoculated is by the end of October, but it's still not too late to receive the shot.

Compared to last year, the number of flu doses administered this flu season in North Dakota is slightly lower for all age groups, but none have declined as significantly as the number of doses given to the state's children ages 6 months to 17 years.

Only about 28% of North Dakotans 6 months through 17 years old have received the flu shot so far this year, said Jennifer Galbraith, vaccine manager with the Department of Health. The national flu vaccination rate for children in this age group is more than 43% as of Dec. 4, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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North Dakota has administered about 15,000 fewer influenza doses this year to children ages 6 months to 17 years of age compared to last flu season, Galbraith said. It's difficult to determine exactly why the pediatric influenza vaccination rate is significantly lower than other age groups, she said, but the Department of Health theorizes that parents may be too busy to get their child inoculated and that COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy may be supplementing reluctance for the flu shot.

"We have, I think, a conception in our head that flu is just mild," Galbraith said. "You're out of school for a couple days and will go back, but healthy kids have died of influenza in the United States, even in recent years. So getting vaccinated can prevent yourself from ending up hospitalized or dying."

The Department of Health is working to make the flu shot more readily available to children, like opening pop-up clinics in schools and at after-school activities, Galbraith said. The Department is also encouraging health care providers to inform their patients about the importance of the flu shot.

"If you haven't already or you haven't gotten your child vaccinated, please go in and consider getting vaccinated, and if you have questions, please talk to your trusted health care provider," she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.

Michelle (she/her, English speaker) is a Bismarck-based journalist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities.
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