Despite the increased risk for complications, children with neurological conditions, such as cerebral palsy or epilepsy, are no more likely to be vaccinated against influenza than children without these conditions. In addition, healthcare practitioners may not be aware that these children are at increased risk.  These findings were part of a study conducted by researchers at the University of Louisville and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The study, published in the journal Vaccine, is the first to estimate the rates of flu vaccination among children with neurological or neurodevelopmental disorders (NNDDs).  Of the 2,138 surveys completed by parents of children with at least one high-risk condition of any kind, 1,143 were completed by parents of children with at least one NNDD and 516 were completed by parents of children with more than one NNDD. Overall, 47% of parents reported that their children received or were scheduled to receive seasonal flu vaccine; the rate was slightly higher in the NNDD parent group at 50%. However, the major driver for vaccination was not the presence of an NNDD, but the presence of a chronic respiratory condition. When asked why parents did not vaccinate their child, 38% of parents said they had concerns about how the vaccine would affect their child, while another 32% had safety concerns.

Of the 412 physicians who participated in the survey, 74% recognized that children with cerebral palsy were at higher risk, but other NNDDs such as epilepsy and intellectual disability were not so highly recognized as posing risk (51% and 46%, respectively).

While the rates of vaccination between healthy children and children with NNDDs may be comparable, researchers believe both rates are suboptimal. More education is needed for both parents and providers about the benefits of annual flu vaccination in children with NNDDs.

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