WASHINGTON — Influenza vaccination coverage estimates show an encouraging upward trend overall, but coverage among healthy adults ages 18 years to 64 years has yet to top 40%, according to new data announced at a news conference held today by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
Studies show adults may not seek vaccination because they think influenza poses no risk to them, but public health officials point out that flu hit the 18- to 64-year-old age group hard last season, with the highest flu-related hospitalization rates in this age group since the 2009 pandemic. Officials also highlighted that in addition to protecting healthy adults, vaccination would also make them less likely to spread influenza to others around them, including co-workers, young children and older parents.
In total, 46.2% of the entire U.S. population ages 6 months and older was vaccinated during the 2013-14 season (up 1.2 percentage points for the country), reported Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coverage was highest among children younger than 5 years old (70.4%) and adults ages 65 years and older (65%).
There was an increase in coverage among school-aged children, up three percentage points to 55.3% among children 5 years to 17 years old. Influenza vaccination coverage in pregnant women has increased from the very low coverage seen prior to the 2009 influenza pandemic, which was often less than 15%, and has remained steady over the past two years at about 50%. In contrast to these estimates, the vaccination rate for healthy adults 18 years to 64 years old is 33.9%.
“It is encouraging that over the past few years more people are getting their flu vaccine, but we need to encourage more young and middle-aged adults to get vaccinated because they also can suffer serious consequences from the flu,” Frieden said. “Vaccination is the single most important step everyone 6 months of age and older can take to protect themselves and their families against influenza.”
This season’s vaccines protect against the three or four influenza viruses research suggests are most likely to spread during the upcoming season: A/California/7/2009 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus; A/Texas/50/2012 (H3N2) virus; B/Massachusetts/2/2012-like virus and a second B virus – B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus – in quadrivalent vaccines. There are 77 million quadrivalent doses available this year, Frieden said.
While vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza, CDC outlined its three-step approach to fighting the flu. In addition to getting vaccinated, CDC urged everyday preventive actions, such as avoiding close contact with sick people, covering coughs and sneezes and regular handwashing. For those who do get infected, the CDC recommends appropriate use of antiviral drugs in adults and children when prescribed by a healthcare professional as a second line of defense against the flu. Antivirals, oseltamivir or zanamivir, can treat influenza illness and reduce the risk of serious influenza complications.