CDC: Too many people who need flu vaccines not getting them |

CDC: Too many people who need flu vaccines not getting them


WASHINGTON – Of the Americans who most need a flu shot, fewer than half actually get one, federal health officials warned as they called for special attention to babies, toddlers and the elderly as vaccinations begin next month.

A record 100 million doses of flu vaccine will be available this year, the vast majority of it shipped to doctors’ offices by the end of October, said Dr. Keiji Fukuda of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That assurance comes a month after one major supplier, Chiron Corp., delayed its shipments because a small amount of vaccine failed sterility testing, suggesting contamination. That was “a precautionary move,” and close monitoring so far suggests the rest of Chiron’s supply is fine, Fukuda said.

There’s no way to predict how harsh flu will be this winter or how soon it will strike. But every year, it kills about 36,000 Americans and hospitalizes another 200,000.

Yet too many people don’t bother to get flu shots, even those at highest risk of influenza-caused complications. Flu vaccine is most recommended for:

— Babies and toddlers 6 months to 23 months old. In 2002, the first year CDC began encouraging shots for these youngsters, just 4.4 percent were fully vaccinated. This year, CDC is more strongly recommending flu shots for this age group.

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— Any child 6 months or older with chronic health problems such as asthma or diabetes that leave them more vulnerable to influenza complications. Yet only about 30 percent of asthmatic children, for example, get vaccinated.

Last year, 152 children died from the flu, the vast majority of them unvaccinated.

— Anyone 50 or older. Of particular concern are those over 64, who account for 90 percent of flu-caused deaths and over half of influenza hospitalizations. Yet just 66 percent of this oldest group get vaccinated.

— Any adult with chronic health conditions, such as heart or lung disease.

— Pregnant women. Vaccinating the mother also offers some protection to babies born during flu season.

— Anyone who lives with or cares for someone at high risk of flu complications, particularly newborns and the elderly.

— Health-care workers. Surprisingly, only about 36 percent get regular flu vaccine.

“When you are vaccinated, you not only protect yourself, you protect your loved ones,” stressed Dr. Walter Orenstein, the associate director of Emory Vaccine Center.

That’s especially important advice for parents, who should double-check that day-care providers, baby sitters and grandparents – anyone in close contact with their young children – are vaccinated, said Dr. Carol Baker of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The first time a child under age 9 gets flu vaccine, he or she needs a booster dose a month later, so make the appointments early, Baker said.

Some parents have been reluctant to get their children flu shots because, unlike other childhood inoculations, the influenza vaccine still contains a small amount of a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal.

While numerous scientific organizations insist the small amount won’t cause harm, Aventis Pasteur Inc. has produced about 4 million thimerosal-free shots for young children, Fukuda said. Anyone interested should ask the pediatrician about that version when making the child’s flu-shot appointment.

Flu shots generally cost $15 to $20. They’re covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most insurance. Made with killed influenza virus, they cannot cause the flu.