Sept. 21, 2011 -- Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults plan to be vaccinated against the flu this season, while seven in 10 parents say they're likely to get their children immunized, according to new survey data.
"The last several years we're seeing an upward trend in influenza vaccination rates," said Vanderbilt University infectious disease specialist William Schaffner, MD, at a news conference on Wednesday.
"Influenza vaccine remains the best prevention for the seasonal viral disease," he said. Schaffner is president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
Last flu season, the CDC began recommending that all Americans 6 months old and older be vaccinated against the disease. The CDC says 130.9 million Americans -- 43% of the U.S. population -- were vaccinated.
"Our goal is to make annual vaccination a no-brainer for Americans across all age groups," Schaffner said.
Vaccine manufacturers and health care providers are prepared to meet an increased demand for flu vaccine. More doses will be available this season than ever before. All 50 states now allow pharmacists to administer the flu vaccine.
More than 85 million doses have already been distributed to doctors' offices, public health clinics, pharmacies, and retail stores. That's about half the 170 million doses that will be available this season, CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, said at the news conference.
Last flu season, 18% of adults who got vaccinated did so at a pharmacy, grocery store, or other retail outlet, according to the CDC. Instead of lines for flu shots, a not uncommon sight at stores in some recent years, people are seeing "no appointment necessary" signs this fall.
Even some people with egg allergies can now get flu vaccine, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Although they previously were told to avoid getting immunized, they can receive the standard flu shot if their only reaction to eggs is hives. The foundation advises that people with egg allergies get their vaccine from a health care professional who's familiar with such allergies.
Types of Flu Vaccine
For the first time, there are four types of flu vaccine available: a nasal spray, the conventional flu shot into muscle, a high-dose shot for people 65 and older, and a new shot, approved for adults 18 to 65, that uses a smaller needle to inject vaccine under the skin.
Because influenza doesn't usually peak until January or February, "now is a great time to get the flu vaccine," said Frieden, who rolled up his sleeve and received his shot during the news conference. "It looks like we're going to have a vaccine that's very well-matched to the circulating strains."
For only the eighth time in 42 years, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, the same strains are circulating two years in a row, including H1N1 (swine flu), so this year's vaccine is the same as last year's. Still, adults who were immunized last year need to do it again this year, Frieden says, because the flu vaccine's effectiveness wanes over the course of a year.
Schaffner says his group's annual survey of adults found that the fact this year's strains are identical to last year's won't dissuade most from getting immunized.
Vaccines for Children
Because this season's vaccine is the same as last season's, young children who received the vaccine last year need only one dose this year, instead of the usual two. But children 6 months to 8 years old who are being immunized for the first time still need two doses at least four weeks apart.
Last year in the U.S., at least 114 children and teens under age 18 died as a result of the flu, and only half of them had an underlying health problem that placed them at higher risk, said American Academy of Pediatrics President Marion Burton, MD, at the news conference. Burton is also director of community pediatrics at the University of South Carolina.
This year, seven in 10 parents said they'll "definitely" or "probably" get their children vaccinated against the flu, according to the infectious disease foundation's annual survey of parents. The percentages are higher for parents of children 10 and under and lower for those whose children are 11 through 17. More than one in 10 parents said they don't know whether they're going to get their kids immunized.
Richard Beigi, MD, MSc, representing the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists at the news conference, emphasized the importance of flu vaccination for pregnant women. During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, 347 pregnant women became severely ill with H1N1 flu, and about 20% of them died.
"Flu vaccine during pregnancy is safe for both mothers and babies," says Beigi, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh. He says the mother's immunization protects her newborn for several months, until he or she is old enough to be vaccinated.