September 28, 2012
(USA TODAY) -- There are plenty of flu shots available this year, and health officials urged Americans on Thursday to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated if not for their own sakes, then for the health of their communities.
About 85 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed, part of a total of 135 million doses for this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Influenza is predictably unpredictable," said Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, who spoke at a news conference in Washington organized by the National Foundation for Infectious Disease.
While 2009-10 saw a pandemic, last year's flu season was the mildest on record, Koh says. Still, 34 children died of the disease last year. The CDC recommends flu vaccines for everyone over age 6 months.
Yet most Americans choose to skip the flu shot. Forty-two percent of Americans got a flu shot last year, about the same rate as the year before, according to the CDC. Vaccination coverage fell sharply with increasing age, peaking at a high of 75% of babies ages 6 to 23 months but falling to 39% of adults and 34% of teens ages 13 to 17. Forty-seven percent of pregnant women were vaccinated against the flu last year.
Pregnant women are five times as likely as other people to become severely ill if they get the flu.
Each year, 5% to 20% of Americans get the flu, causing up to 200,000 hospitalizations, Koh said. Yet even health care workers aren't getting recommended vaccines. Sixty-seven percent of all health care providers get flu shots, including 87% of doctors.
"It's a patient safety issue, so we do not transmit our influenza infection to patients," said William Schaffner, past president of the infectious disease foundation. "It's also so that when influenza strikes, we are vertical and not horizontal."
Schaffner predicts more hospital workers will become vaccinated once the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requires those vaccination rates to be published. The flu shot currently protects against three strains of virus, but next year's vaccine will protect against four, Schaffner said.
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