Health officials urge everyone to get their flu shots


Have you gotten your flu shot yet?

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Have you gotten your flu shot yet? The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) urges everyone age six months and older to be vaccinated against influenza, according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendation.

Vaccination coverage estimates from the 2015-2016 influenza season, presented late this week by CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, show steady vaccination rates among children, but a concerning drop in influenza vaccination among adults 50 years and older. Data also shows that U.S. healthcare personnel are getting their flu vaccines at the highest rates ever.

While the flu typically makes most people sick for a few days and sometimes for a week or more, Dr. Frieden stressed that it can be more serious and even life-threatening for others. "Getting a flu vaccine is important for all of us, for our own protection and for the protection of those around us who may be more vulnerable to flu, such as young children, people with certain chronic health conditions and the elderly," says Dr. Frieden. "Flu can strike anyone and it can strike hard. I'm getting vaccinated today and I ask that you join me."

Influenza vaccination coverage across the entire U.S. population was 45.6%, down by 1.5% points from the previous season. The largest coverage decreases were seen among older people with a drop of 3.4 percentage points to 43.6% among people 50 to 64 years old and a drop of 3.3 percentage points to 63.4% among people 65 years and older. The highest influenza vaccination coverage among the public during the 2015-2016 season was among children age 6 months through 23 months. At 75%, this is the only group of people that exceeds the national public health goals of 70% vaccination coverage. Coverage of 46% among the public means about 144 million people received a flu vaccine last season in the U.S.

Coverage among healthcare personnel (including medical and nonmedical staff) has continued to increase. Last season, coverage in that group was 79% as opposed to 77.3% during 2014-2015 and 75.2% during 2013-2014. Physician vaccination coverage last season reached an all-time high of 95.6%. Also notable was a significant increase in vaccination among staff at long-term care facilities, where coverage increased from 64% to 69% — the highest coverage ever reported for this group of people. Experts say this is an encouraging trend in a setting that cares for some of the nation's most vulnerable patients. "This is progress, but it still leaves too many unprotected from flu. The more people who get vaccinated, the fewer preventable illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths from flu we will see in the coming months," says Dr. Frieden.

Additional highlights of the reports show:

  • About half of all pregnant women reported receiving an influenza vaccine, consistent with recent years. The highest coverage (63%) was seen among pregnant women whose obstetricians recommended vaccination and also offered it in their practices.
  • Among adults, Hispanic and non-Hispanic African American adults continued to have lower influenza vaccination coverage than non-Hispanic white adults.
  • Wide variation in influenza coverage is seen across individual states.

Dr. Frieden was joined by a panel of leading public health and medical experts, including William Schaffner, MD, medical director of NFID and professor of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine; Wilbur H. Chen, MD, associate professor, chief of the Adult Clinical Studies section at the Center for Vaccine Development, University of Maryland School of Medicine; and Patricia N. Whitley-Williams, MD, VP of NFID and division chief and professor of Pediatrics at Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

While all of the experts stressed that vaccination is recommended for everyone, Dr. Schaffner, explained why the drop in coverage for older adults is of particular concern. "Adults age 65 years and older are disproportionally affected by flu," says Dr. Schaffner. "During the severe 2014-2015 season, more than three-quarters of the nearly one million people hospitalized due to influenza were age 65 years and older. Vaccination not only reduces the chance that older adults will get the flu, it can help keep them out of the hospital by reducing the severity of the infection and related complications if they do get the flu."

The panel also stressed the importance of pneumococcal vaccination for adults age 65 years and older and younger adults with high-risk factors, such as diabetes, heart disease and lung disorders, as well people who smoke. These people should talk to their healthcare professional about pneumococcal vaccination. Unlike the milder form of pneumonia, panelists warned that pneumococcal pneumonia is usually more severe and can lead to sepsis as well as other serious infections in addition to pneumonia. Additionally, pneumococcal disease is often a common and deadly complication of influenza.

Dr. Schaffner urged all adults in high-risk groups to talk to their healthcare professional and to get pneumococcal vaccines as recommended. "Pneumococcal vaccines can be given at the same time as the influenza vaccine, meaning now is a great time to make sure you are protected against flu and pneumonia."