Early Vaccination Imperative This Flu Season

Author: Aimee Simone, Assistant Editor

Influenza vaccination rates increased during the 2012-2013 season, but still have a long way to go to reach national coverage targets, health officials reported.

After the worst flu season in nearly a decade, health officials stressed the importance of early influenza vaccination at a press conference in Washington, DC, on September 26, 2013, held by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID).
 
Despite the particularly severe 2012-2013 flu season, data presented at the press conference and published in the September 20, 2013, issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report indicates that vaccination rates are improving. During the 2012-2013 flu season, 45% of the entire US population aged 6 months and older was vaccinated, an increase of 3 percentage points from the 2011-2012 season. Among age groups, vaccination rates rose most among children aged 6 months to 17 years, increasing 5 percentage points from the 2011-2012 season to 56.6%. A more modest increase in coverage, 2.5 percentage points, was reported in adults aged 18 to 49, for a 2012-2013 coverage rate of 31%. Vaccination rates were highest among children younger than 4 (70%), followed by adults older than 65 (66%).
 
Despite these national increases in coverage, vaccination rates varied significantly from state to state, with a gap of 23 percentage points between Massachusetts, which had the highest overall coverage of 57.5%, and Florida, which had the lowest overall coverage of 34.1%. Coverage rates also varied by race and ethnicity in adults. Vaccination rates for Hispanics (34%) and blacks (36%) were about 10 percentage points lower than those for whites (45%). However, coverage disparities based on ethnicity and race were not observed among children.
 
The coverage rate for pregnant women during the 2012-2013 flu season was 51%, consistent with rates during the previous 2 seasons. Officials noted that pregnant women whose physicians recommended the flu shot were 5 times more likely to get vaccinated than those whose physicians failed to recommend it. They added that health care professionals not only have a responsibility to recommend vaccination to their patients, they also have a responsibility to get vaccinated themselves. During the 2012-2013 flu season, 72% of health care personnel—a record high—were vaccinated. Physicians had the highest coverage at 92.3%, with pharmacists following close behind at 89%. Coverage among personnel at long-term care facilities, however, remained low at just 59%, compared with 83% for hospital staff.
 
Although these increases in coverage indicate progress, vaccination rates are still well below national coverage targets of 80% for those aged 6 months to 65 years and 90% for those older than 65. To help reach these coverage targets and prevent another epidemic this flu season, a greater variety of vaccine options will be offered than ever before. In addition to the standard trivalent vaccine, a high-dose version is available for adults older than 65 and an egg-free version is available for adults aged 18 to 49 with egg allergies. For the first time, a quadrivalent vaccine, which protects against 4 flu strains rather than the usual 3, is available as well.
 
An estimated 135 million doses of seasonal influenza vaccine will be available this year in physician offices, clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, and retail stores, and the CDC recommends that everyone aged 6 months and older be vaccinated before an outbreak. In addition to getting vaccinated, health officials at the press conference recommended covering coughs and sneezes as well as proper hand washing to prevent the spread of flu.
 
Pharmacists can help by recommending and giving vaccinations to patients and by getting vaccinated themselves. “As pharmacists, we should walk the walk and get immunized to set a good example for patients,” said Mitchel Rothholz, RPh, MBA, chief strategy officer of the American Pharmacists Association.