September 27, 2008
Flu Season Opens With Ample Shots
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - Just about everybody needs a flu vaccine - unless you're an infant or a healthy adult hermit - but far too few of the Americans who need protection the most get it.That's the message as flu-shot season officially began Wednesday with a call for a record number to be inoculated - including 30 million more school-age children than ever before targeted."Get out there and get protected and protect others and for sure protect your children," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."People should start getting vaccinated now, yesterday actually," added Dr. William Schaffner, president-elect of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.There's ample supply: 143 million to 146 million doses, more than ever before manufactured. Unlike last year when a surprise new influenza strain emerged, CDC's checks of parts of the world where flu virus already is circulating show that this year's vaccine is a good match and should offer plenty of protection.Flu kills about 36,000 Americans per year, and hospitalizes about 200,000.Add up everyone the CDC recommends get vaccinated, and 261 million Americans now qualify. Yet last year, just 113 million of the 140 million doses produced were used - spurring a bid for new ways, from inoculations at schools to voting booths, to spread the advice."I should have got Emily a flu shot," a mother says with despair in a hard-hitting video of families who lost children to the flu that CDC just posted on YouTube, part of this year's special push to vaccinate children.For the first time, the CDC is advising that every child age 6 months to 18 years be inoculated, unless they have a serious egg allergy.Until now, flu vaccine was recommended only for children under 5 and those with chronic health problems like asthma - the youngsters most likely to be hospitalized. Why the change? Healthy school-age children actually have higher rates of flu than other age groups, and research increasingly shows they spread it to the rest of us.Worse, seemingly healthy children of any age can die from the flu - 86 last year, from babies to teens.Parents may need to schedule an appointment early: Any child under 9 who's being vaccinated for the first time will need two doses, a month apart. A single dose suffices for everyone else.CDC released disappointing counts Wednesday of how many people at highest risk from influenza get vaccinated - including just 72 percent of those age 65 and older, even though Medicare offers them free shots.Roughly one in five children under 2 got vaccinated during the 2006-07 season, the latest data available. And just 35 percent of young adults at high risk because of chronic illnesses, such as asthma or heart conditions, comply.Also on CDC's get-vaccinated list: Anyone 50 or older; health care workers; caregivers and relatives of the high- risk; and pregnant women. Newborns can't be vaccinated, but a fetus does absorb protection from a vaccinated mother.A closer look shows where people live greatly influences their flu protection. Young adults are least likely to get vaccinated in Florida, while Rhode Island does the best job at vaccinating seniors. As for babies and toddlers, fewer than one in 10 in Mississippi are fully vaccinated compared with nearly half in Rhode Island.Perhaps most stunning, just 42 percent of health care workers get vaccinated, people who could be infecting patients in doctors' offices and hospitals.CDC's Gerberding called it "unconscionable" for health workers to avoid vaccination: "This is a patient safety issue."Schaffner, of Vanderbilt University, said Tennessee has begun requiring health facilities to report employees' vaccination rates, a move under consideration by more states.Vaccine costs about $25. Choices include the old-fashioned shot for all ages, and the nasal vaccine FluMist, which can be used in healthy people age 2 to 49.Beyond the usual doctors' offices, health departments and grocery stores, more than 140 schools around the country are scheduling flu-vaccination days, some with free vaccine, according FluMist maker MedImmune Inc.And a Robert Wood Johnson-funded program called Vote & Vax will offer vaccine at numerous polling places on Election Day.Voting isn't required, and the vaccine provider is supposed to charge the same price it would any other day, at any other location. The idea: The convenience of avoiding an extra stop might encourage more people to get vaccinated.It's not clear how many polling places will participate. But during a pilot project on Election Day 2006, some 13,790 doses were administered at 127 polling places in 14 states - and nearly 30 percent of the recipients said they hadn't gotten vaccinated the previous year.