Dec 5, 2011 (CIDRAP News) – Officials from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today they see promising signs of increased flu vaccine uptake in children and healthcare workers so far this year, adding that they hope to boost less impressive numbers in adults and those with chronic medical conditions.
They unveiled the early vaccination findings at a press conference today to mark the start of National Influenza Vaccination Week, an annual event designed to promote flu vaccination before the holiday season and into the new year.
Dr Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at the US Department of Health and Human Services, said the CDC and its state and local partners hope to use the event to raise awareness that flu remains a serious and unpredictable disease, especially for high-risk groups such as pregnant women and those with underlying diseases such as asthma. The United States is entering the second year of a universal flu vaccination recommendation; the CDC recommends the vaccine for anyone age 6 months and older.
Koh said the CDC hopes to keep up the momentum that was generated with flu vaccine uptake least season, when nearly half of all pregnant women were immunized, along with almost half of all children, with no racial disparities seen among the youngsters. "It's critical to continue the progress," he said.
Though vaccine effectiveness can vary from year to year and some people, such as seniors, have lower levels of protection, public health experts have said the vaccine is still the best defense against the flu, until a better one can be developed.
In the past, less than half of healthcare workers received flu vaccine. However, an Internet panel survey conducted from Nov 1 through Nov 18 suggested that 63% had been vaccinated, an increase of 7% compared with last year at this time, Koh said. The Internet panel included 2,500 respondents. The national Healthy People 2020 goal for flu vaccine uptake in healthcare workers is 90%, he said.
Dr Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said health officials are seeing little flu activity, though cases have been confirmed so far this season in about 30 states. She added that now is a good time to be immunized, in advance of travel and family gatherings and before the virus gains a solid foothold for the season. "Being sidelined with flu and passing it around is something no one wants on their holiday wish list," she said.
She released the results of two surveys of mid fall flu vaccine uptake that she said serve as a useful pulse check for public health officials. The findings are from the National Flu Survey and include land line and cell phone interviews with 16,000 adults, including 4,000 parents, between Nov 1 and 13.
Early results suggest that about 36% of the general population age 6 months and older have been immunized, which translates to about 111 million Americans. Schuchat said the percentage is 3.5% ahead of the same period in 2010.
Uptake was slightly higher for adults, but the rise was more pronounced for children, at 37% so far this year, compared with 31% at this time last year, Schuchat said, crediting CDC health partners with helping promote the benefits of flu vaccination, especially in children and minority populations. Uptake is also higher this year for seniors, a group that traditionally has the strongest flu vaccination rates.
However, she said there is lots of room for improvement in people with chronic medical conditions: Their uptake so far is about 39%, very close to this time last year.
For pregnant women, an Internet panel survey of 2,000 women conducted from Nov 1 to 14 found that 43% have been immunized against flu so far, about the same as at this time last year.
So far the CDC is cautiously optimistic about flu vaccine uptake, though it worries about complacency about the disease, Schuchat said.
Vaccine manufacturers have distributed about 129 million doses of flu vaccine this year, she said. Earlier this year, the companies projected that the total number of doses produced for the 2011-12 season would range from 166 million to 173 million, a record amount.
The CDC recently released several flu vaccination materials to assist state and local partners with immunization efforts, including a letter to healthcare providers on vaccination of pregnant women and materials targeted to seniors, refugees, those with chronic medical conditions, healthcare workers, young adults, and travelers.
CDC National Influenza Vaccination Week materials
CDC healthcare personnel flu vaccination panel survey
CDC mid-season National Flu Survey findings
CDC pregnant women flu vaccination panel survey