Americans Urged to Get Flu Vaccine

Daniel Weiss, Senior Editor
Published Online: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
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Since 2010, the CDC has recommended that all Americans older than 6 months receive the annual influenza vaccine, but coverage rates have so far fallen short of goals.

Public health officials urged all Americans older than 6 months to receive the annual influenza vaccine at a press conference in Washington, DC, on September 27, 2012. The officials emphasized that getting vaccinated is particularly important for groups including young children, pregnant women, those older than 65 years, health care providers, and those with underlying conditions such as asthma and diabetes.
 
Since 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that everyone older than 6 months receive the influenza vaccine, but so far the goals of 80% coverage for those aged 6 months to 65 years and 90% coverage for those older than 65 years have not been met. During the 2011-2012 flu season, the overall vaccination rate was approximately 42%. The vaccination rate was 74.6% for those aged 6 months to 23 months, up more than 6 points from the 2010-2011 season. Vaccination rates were lower for older children, hitting just 34% for those aged 13 to 17 years, were even lower for those aged 18 to 49 years (28.6%), but were higher for those aged 50 to 64 years (42.7%) and those older than 65 years (64.9%).
 
Coverage for pregnant women was 47%, about the same as the previous season, but higher than before then 2009-2010 swine flu pandemic, when coverage was under 30%. Laura Riley, MD, director of obstetrics and gynecology infectious disease at Massachusetts General Hospital, emphasized the importance of vaccination for pregnant women during the press conference. “Influenza is 5 times more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than women who are not pregnant,” she said. “Research shows [the influenza vaccine] can decrease the baby’s risk of getting the flu for up to 6 months after birth.”
 
Vaccination of health care personnel is seen as important in limiting the spread of flu to patients as well as in setting an example for others. The overall vaccination rate for health care workers was approximately 67% in the 2011-2012 season, up slightly from the previous season, with the highest coverage rates among physicians (approximately 86%). Among work settings, hospital health care workers had the highest coverage rate, while workers other than doctors and nurses in long-term care facilities had the lowest coverage rates (just 50%).
 
The officials at the press conference noted that 85 million doses of influenza vaccine had been distributed as of September 14, 2012, and a total of 135 million doses are projected to be made available in a variety of venues, including doctors’ offices, public health clinics, pharmacies, and retail stores. Pharmacist Mitchel Rothholz, RPh, MBA, chief strategy officer of the American Pharmacists Association, noted that all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico now allow pharmacists to give the influenza vaccine, and 20 million doses were administered by pharmacists last year. “Pharmacists and pharmacies are playing a greater role within the immunization neighborhood in making vaccines and vaccine information more accessible to all community residents,” he said.
 
The officials noted that influenza season is an excellent time to administer the pneumococcal vaccine as well. Pneumococcal disease can be a complication of the flu, although it can occur at any time during the year. Everyone older than 65 years is recommended to get the pneumococcal vaccine once, and it is also recommended for those aged 18 to 65 years who smoke or who have diabetes, asthma, or heart, lung, or liver problems. Currently, there are approximately 73 million American adults who should receive the pneumococcal vaccine but have not.

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