FLU SERIES CDC: Flu vaccine reached those in need

Feb 11, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – Influenza vaccine doses intended for those at highest risk for serious complications from the flu made it into the arms of the right people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta said yesterday.

One highlight of the first part of the 2004-05 flu season is that 57.3% of children between 6 and 23 months old were vaccinated from September to December 2004, the CDC said. The data were collected during the first 3 weeks of January by the national Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey. This was the first year flu immunization was officially recommended for young children.

"It is wonderful news that so many children are being vaccinated against a potentially life-threatening illness like influenza," CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said in a news release.

The survey also showed that most flu vaccine doses went to the priority groups identified for this season. Coverage among adults in priority groups was 43.1%, compared with 8.3% for adults in other groups. Nearly 59% of people aged 65 and older reported having vaccinations by last December, down from 65.5% of people who reported getting flu shots in the 2003 survey.

It has been a turbulent flu season from an administrative standpoint. States have scrambled to make up shortfalls in supply prompted by the loss of Chiron's 48 million doses last October. Faced with just over half the expected supply, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) identified priority groups for vaccination.

A CDC workgroup will meet later this month to consider whether to sub-prioritize those priority categories, weighing issues such as whether vaccinating children prevents more illnesses than reaching members of other priority groups, said Bonnie Hebert, a CDC spokeswoman.

With the CDC's release of its flu vaccine stockpile on Jan 27, some 3.5 million more doses of vaccine were made available. In addition, states were allowed to make widely available some doses originally reserved for certain uninsured or underinsured children in the Vaccines for Children Program.

In California and other states, experts are encouraging parents to bring children under age 9 in for flu shots in order to boost immunity this season and next, said Robert Schechter, MD, with the immunization branch of California's Department of Health Services. ACIP recommendations call for two doses the first year children get flu shots.

Children can have their first shot now, before the existing supplies expire on June 30, and get another dose next fall, Schechter said, "to make it a little easier to get existing shots before next winter and use the supply we have now."

The push is part of a larger educational initiative evident across the United States.

"People expect that vaccination against flu happens in October or November," Schechter said. They need to realize "there is a larger window than that."

The Minnesota Department of Health today announced 24 possible or probable influenza outbreaks in schools and 12 confirmed outbreaks in nursing homes. The department offered this gentle reminder: "With 3 months of the flu season still ahead of us, getting the shot now is still a good idea."

The flu season is in full swing in Tennessee, reported Kelly Moore, MD, MPH, medical director for the state's immunization program. Demand for flu shots varies by region, but is particularly high in areas where the flu is circulating, she said.

Several schools have been shut down across Tennessee because of the jump in flu cases and the prevalence of other viral illnesses this year, Moore said. Some schools were seeing absentee rates of 15% to 20%, according to the Associated Press (AP). About 1,700 cases of influenza-like illness (ILI) were reported in the state last week, the AP reported.

In updating its flu activity report today, the CDC said the illness continued to increase across the nation last week. Flu activity was widespread in 27 states, regional in 16, and local in 4 states and the District of Columbia. Two states and Puerto Rico logged only sporadic influenza activity.

The proportion of patient visits to sentinel providers for ILI was above the national baseline, the CDC said. However, the proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and flu—7.8%—was below the epidemic threshold of 8.2%, the agency said. Six flu-associated deaths in children have been reported to CDC this season.

See also:

Feb 10 CDC news release
http://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/r050210.htm

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