MSDH Reports First Pediatric Flu Death of the Season | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

MSDH Reports First Pediatric Flu Death of the Season

State health leadership announced Mississippi’s first pediatric death this week. The death marks the 23rd pediatric fatality since the state started recording such data in 2008. Photo credit Nick Judin

State health leadership announced Mississippi’s first pediatric death this week. The death marks the 23rd pediatric fatality since the state started recording such data in 2008. Photo credit Nick Judin

Mississippi saw its first seasonal pediatric death to influenza this week, ahead of what may hold to be a harsher flu season than 2020.

The Mississippi State Department of Health defines a pediatric death as one occurring in a patient under 18 years of age. MSDH has reported 23 such cases since first recording that data during the 2008-2009 flu season.

State health leadership urges all Mississippians to get both their flu and COVID-19 vaccinations this year to help prevent additional deaths from the flu.

“We recommend that all Mississippians get their flu shots every year, but especially now with COVID-19,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said. “The flu vaccination can be given at the same time—or any time before or after—the COVID-19 vaccination. There is no minimum amount of time you need to wait between these vaccinations," Byers said.

The flu vaccine can take up to two weeks to provide effective immunity once given. Peak flu season starts in January and continues into March, but MSDH is already seeing increased flu activity across the state.

"We are starting to see increased flu activity in Mississippi through our surveillance system,” Byers said. “It is recommended to get vaccinated now before we reach peak flu activity. Influenza vaccination is especially important for young children, pregnant women, those over 65, and those with underlying health problems," he said.

"Flu vaccination is the best way to protect both children and adults from serious complications such as hospitalization, and in many cases, death,” Byers said.

MSDH operates a program called Vaccines For Children, allowing qualifying families to get their kids vaccinated at no cost if they qualify. Information on that program is available here, while a list of participating VFC providers is available by county here.

Flu shots for adults are widely available at physicians, pharmacies and retail locations.

Current COVID-19 safety practices drastically reduced the amount of flu cases in 2020, and MSDH says the same practices can help reduce the chances of a resurgent flu this season.

“While vaccination is the best protection against flu, basic infection control measures can also reduce the spread of flu and should be taken whether or not individuals are vaccinated,” MSDH’s statement reads. “These measures include covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing, staying at home when you or your children are sick, and washing your hands frequently. Wearing a face covering in public places offers additional protection against the flu.

Research on putting COVID-19 vaccine technology to work against influenza is underway, with biotech companies including Pfizer and Moderna conducting early clinical trials.

In a Dec. 10 press briefing with the Mississippi State Medical Association, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs expressed hope that mRNA technology may pave the way for a wide range of better vaccines, including influenza.

“We're going to look at hopefully better flu vaccines than we’ve ever had,” Dobbs said. “I think it's going to open up a whole new world of technology, not just for infections but also for cancer treatment and other sorts of diseases.”

Research on mRNA vaccines began in the 1990s in hopes of combating cancer, and is now undergoing trials for vaccinating against human immunodeficiency viruses.

“There's all kinds of neat things you can do,” Dobbs said of mRNA vaccine research. “We're going to be sort of like in a new Renaissance.”

Email Reporting Fellow Julian Mills at [email protected].

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