High-risk populations, according to SAGE, include pregnant women, children, the elderly, healthcare workers, and those with underlying, chronic health conditions.
Everyone should get a flu vaccine in order to protect themselves from getting and spreading the disease. Certain groups of people, however, should be prioritized when it comes to vaccinating against the flu. The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization recommends targeting pregnant women, healthcare workers, children under five years old, the elderly, and individuals with underlying health conditions. These groups have an especially high risk of developing complications when it comes to the flu. The SAGE Background Paper on Influenza Vaccines and Immunization explains:
“Pregnant women are at particularly high risk of severe complications and death from influenza and the risk is exacerbated by co-morbidities and later trimester of pregnancy.” Furthermore, “maternal immunization against influenza prevents negative effects on fetal development due to maternal influenza infection and reduces rates of illness in infants for at least the first 6 months of life.” Vaccinating pregnant women helps to protect the mothers and their babies.
“Healthcare workers (HCWs) have an additional exposure risk for influenza, compared to the general population.” Also, “HCWs can transmit virus to patients, who are at increased risk of severe disease due to influenza and may respond less well to vaccine.” Vaccinating healthcare workers is about protecting not only the workers themselves but also the patients they treat.
“Children have a substantial disease burden associated with influenza with higher rates of clinic visits, hospitalizations and deaths compared to non-elderly adults.” Depending on how old a child is though, the type of influenza vaccine they should receive may vary. For example, “in children older than 2 years, either inactivated vaccine or live-attenuated vaccine” is best,” whereas for those under 2, “inactivated vaccines are the only choice.” Vaccinating children gives protection to immune systems that are not yet working at their full capacity.
“For the elderly, influenza is a key contributor to increased mortality. Limited data suggest that influenza-associated mortality among the elderly in low and middle income countries may be higher than in high income countries.” Vaccinating the elderly gives a boost to immune systems that are becoming slower and weaker with age.
“Individuals with specific underlying health conditions, such as chronic respiratory, cardiac disease, morbid obesity and compromised immune status, are more likely to develop severe or fatal disease due to influenza infection than healthy individuals of the same age group.” Vaccinating those with underlying and chronic conditions helps to reduce the chances of putting additional strain on already compromised immune systems.