Despite an increased risk for complications from the flu, many children with intellectual disability, cerebral palsy and other disorders are not vaccinated to protect against the virus.

Just half of children with neurologic or neurodevelopmental conditions receive the flu vaccine each year, according to a report published Thursday in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

That’s similar to the vaccination rate for all children, but presents a dilemma because kids with special needs face bigger risks of hospitalization or even death if they contract the flu, officials said.

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“Among the most vulnerable for influenza-related conditions are children with neurologic conditions,” said Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC. “We found that we have room for improvement.”

For the study, the CDC surveyed parents of more than 1,000 children with neurologic or neurodevelopmental conditions as well as about 400 physicians who treat children with special needs. They found that even though most parents rely on doctors to provide information about vaccines, many doctors fail to identify children who face high risk from the flu.

The CDC’s Schuchat said this is particularly significant on the heels of the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak when a disproportionate number of kids with neurologic disorders died. Intellectual disability and epilepsy were two of the most common conditions affecting children who died that year. Yet, among doctors surveyed for the new CDC study, the conditions were two of the least likely to be identified as high risk.

“It’s very important that we vaccinate these children and those around them,” Schuchat said. “I hope that we can do better in the future.”

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