August 19, 2011

CDC Urges Flu Shots For All Americans

Health experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , for the second year in a row, are urging all Americans to get their influenza shot, even though the circulating strains of flu have not changed since last year's flu season.

The CDC said on Thursday that its recommendation applies to everyone over 6 months of age. They said that even those who received flu shots last year against the same flu strains need to have it again.

The agency said it is very possible that immunity provided from last year's flu shots may have faded. This year's vaccine protects against H1N1 (swine flu) and two other flu strains (H3N2 and influenza B).

The new recommendations from CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices also cover Sanofi's newly approved Fluzone Intradermal vaccine for adults aged 18 to 64. The vaccine, which delivers the medicine into the skin rather than muscle, can be used as an alternative to traditional vaccine.

GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, AstraZeneca unit MedImmune, and CSL all make flu vaccine for the U.S. market. CDC officials said those companies will eventually provide up to 166 million doses of vaccine this season. That compares to 157 million last year.

"There is plenty of vaccine for anyone who wants to get vaccinated this year," Dr. Carolyn Bridges of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases told Reuters in a telephone briefing.

The CDC recommendations states that children up to the age of 8, that are receiving their vaccine for the first time, will need to get two flu shots -- given at least a month apart -- to build up an immunity against the flu strains. Any children who received a flu shot last year, will only need one this year.

The CDC also released data on a couple of studies looking at vaccination rates among healthcare personnel and pregnant woman. The data suggests that the CDC has a tough road ahead convincing Americans to get flu shots.

In the healthcare personnel study, conducted by the CDC and the RAND Corporation, researchers saw only a slight increase in the immunization rates of those persons (63.5 percent in 2010-2011, compared to 62 percent the previous season).

Doctors and hospital workers had the highest vaccination rates, and mandates made a huge difference. In the 13 percent of those surveyed who said their employers required them to get a flu shot, 98 percent said they had been vaccinated.

In the second study, 49 percent of pregnant women reported getting vaccinated during the past flu season, about the same as the previous season. Pregnant women, and their babies are at higher risk of severe flu complications.

While the study showed no gains in vaccination rates in pregnant women, researchers were pleased the same level of coverage was achieved after fears of a flu pandemic subsided.


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