HEALTH

CDC: Flu vaccination rates on the rise

BY Michael Johnsen

WASHINGTON — With influenza season approaching, health experts at a Nationa Foundation for Infectious Disease news conference reinforced the need for everyone six months of age and older to get vaccinated with updated 2015-2016 vaccine.
 
“Vaccination is the single most important step people can take to protect themselves from influenza,” Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said. “Flu can be serious and it kills tens of thousands of Americans each year. Vaccination is easier and more convenient than ever, so get yourself and your family protected.”
 
Overall, the CDC estimates that 47% of the U.S. population age 6 months and older was vaccinated during the 2014-2015 season, similar to the 2013-2014 season and up from an estimated 41% five years ago. Coverage remains highest among children age 6 months through 23 months at 75%, the only age group that met the public health vaccination coverage goal of 70%. Children age 2 years through 4 years followed at 68%. 
 
Although vaccination coverage decreases in older children, vaccination among children age 5 years through 12 years is still above the national average, at 62%. In contrast to younger children, the estimated vaccination rate for adults age 18 years through 49 years has yet to top 40%.  
 
Similar to young children, coverage rates for adults age 65 years and older also remained high at an estimated 67%.
 
Coverage for pregnant women, who also are at high risk for serious influenza-related complications, remained steady as well during the 2014-2015 season, with 50% reporting getting vaccinated before or during their pregnancy.
 
Doctors, nurses and other healthcare personnel have higher vaccination rates. Overall, 77% of healthcare personnel (including medical and nonmedical staff) reported getting a flu vaccine and rates climb to 90% in hospital settings. However, opportunities for improvement remain because low coverage rates persist among long-term care facility staff (64%). Low rates in these settings are of great concern since it puts some of the nation's most vulnerable patients at greater risk of getting the flu. Healthcare personnel in long-term care settings also were least likely to report that their employer required vaccination or made it available onsite.
 
Influenza vaccination coverage estimates have steadily increased, particularly over the past five years, and are highest in young children and older adults, who are among those most vulnerable to severe complications from the flu. The coverage estimates, announced by Frieden, also include new reports on vaccination coverage among healthcare personnel and pregnant women and were published in this week's issue of CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
 
Panelists who joined Frieden in the call included William Schaffner, medical director of NFID and professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine; Kathleen Neuzil, professor of medicine and director, Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland School of Medicine; and Wendy Sue Swanson, pediatrician, blogger (Seattle Mama Doc) and executive director of Digital Health at Seattle Children's Hospital.
 
CDC recommends a three-step approach to fighting flu, with vaccination being the first step. In addition to vaccination, CDC urges people to take everyday preventive actions such as avoiding close contact with sick people, covering coughs and sneezes, and frequent handwashing using soap and water or alcohol-based hand rubs when soap and water are not immediately available.
 
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