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After Seven Child COVID-19 Deaths in 2021, Mississippi Reports First Pediatric Flu Death

a photo of Dr. Bhagyashri Navalkele at a computer at UMMC
The Mississippi State Department of Health reported the state's first child influenza death since May 2020 on Dec. 13, 2021. Mask-wearing, social-distancing and hand-washing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was responsible for the marked decrease in flu cases during the last flu season, Dr. Bhagyashri Navalkele, the director of infection prevention and control at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said in March 2021. She is seen here prior to the pandemic-era adoption of mask mandates for hospital employees. Photo courtesy UMMC

A child has died of an influenza infection for the first time since May 2020, the Mississippi State Health Department reported this week. The state reported two child deaths from influenza in 2020, but flu activity levels plummeted as residents followed social-distancing guidelines in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nine children have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic’s official arrival in the state in March 2020, including seven in 2021.

“We recommend that all Mississippians get their flu shots every year, but especially now with COVID-19,” Mississippi State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said in a statement Monday. “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 Mississippi is “starting to see increased flu activity.” That is a marked change from last year, when the University of Mississippi Medical Center described flu activity as “all but MIA.” Flu season typically begins in January and ends in March. But nationwide, just one child died of influenza for the 2020-2021 flu season by March 1; in most years, the national pediatric death toll is around 150 to 200.

Dr. Bhagyashri Navalkele, the director of infection prevention and control at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said in March 2021 that mask-wearing, social-distancing and hand-washing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was responsible for the marked decrease in flu cases.

“People were vaccinated for the flu, as they are every season, and there were upticks in the vaccination rates. But the precautionary measures were not common in previous years,” she said in a spring UMMC press release.

Last year and through last spring, however, many states, including Mississippi, had stricter public-health guidelines for COVID-19 prevention. In the Magnolia State, Gov. Tate Reeves required public-school children to wear masks indoors all year long.

He dropped mask mandates for the current school year, refusing to introduce them even as the delta variant surged in the late summer leading to seven COVID-19 deaths in Mississippians under 18 years of age since July 2021 alone.

Information and flu vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines for children and adults are available at msdh.ms.gov. More information on child vaccinations is available at HealthyMS.com/vfc.

Correction: This story originally said six children have died of COVID-19 in 2021. Seven children have died of COVID-19 this year in addition to two in 2020.

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