The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published a comprehensive analysis of influenza vaccination rates of the US population during the 2011-2012 season. Mostly, the numbers continue to be disappointing, even in groups that should have higher rates of flu shots, such as pregnant women and healthcare workers. These numbers continue to demonstrate the difficulty in increasing the vaccine uptake rate in the US.
Public health officials has been pushing to increase the flu vaccination rates of healthcare workers. The numbers are somewhat disappointing, but as more states mandate flu vaccinations for healthcare workers, the rate may improve. The CDC found that about 63.4% of healthcare workers had been vaccinated for the flu as of November 2011, an 8 point improvement over 2010.
But, according to a report in NBC News, “the group that should have 100 percent vaccination is health care workers. The CDC data show that more than 86 percent of physicians are vaccinated, followed by more than three-quarters of nurses. But the numbers plummet to just half of workers in long-term care facilities, where patients are especially vulnerable to flu.”
In that same NBC report, Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University stated, “I believe that the immunization of the health care provider community is both an ethical and professional responsibility. It’s a patient safety issue so that we do not transmit our influenza infection. When an outbreak strikes, we need to be vertical, not horizontal.”
Public health officials, like the CDC, have also been urging pregnant women to get vaccinated, especially since there is some evidence that the flu vaccine provides better outcomes for pregnant women with lower risks for stillbirth, neonatal death or premature delivery. The CDC found that only 43.2% of pregnant women received a flu vaccination in November 2011, a slight drop from November 2010.
“Pregnant women worry about everything,” Dr. Laura Riley of Massachusetts General Hospital said, NBC News reports. “We spend a lot of time in this country talking about you can’t eat this, you can’t eat that. It takes us a little while to get the message out about how efficacious (the vaccine) is. We are preventing a very severe disease potentially and we are protecting your baby.”
For the past decade, the CDC and state health departments have pushing Americans to get vaccinated against the flu, but the results for the general public have been less than encouraging. According to the CDC, fewer than 42% of the US population is estimated to have been vaccinated during the 2011-12 flu season. Some of the reasons for the low vaccination rate has been attributed to poor access to vaccine supplies and recent mild flu seasons, but it can also be some of the common anti-vaccination myths like “the flu vaccine can give you the flu.” A myth that I thoroughly debunked.
Interestingly, about 75% of children from 6-23 months old were vaccinated, because they see their physicians quite often, and are vaccinated regularly. The disconnect between making sure our children are vaccinated properly but not adults is disconcerting, but hopefully we’ll correct this over time.
There’s probably many reasons why Americans don’t vaccinate against the flu. The myth of catching the flu that I mentioned above is one. The other myth that is often heard is “I never get sick,” which is usually a result of poor memory rather than a real fact. Or it’s dismissing the fact that the flu is fairly dangerous disease. Or it’s one of the half-dozen anti-vaccination myths that we’ve discussed frequently.
But don’t think that the flu is some trivial disease. Young children, adults over 65 years old, and pregnant women, along with anyone who have these conditions: diabetes, asthma, HIV/AIDS, and cancer are at increased risk of complications from flu. Even then, about 10% of deaths happen outside of those high risk groups, and in a large outbreak or epidemic, we can expect a large number of hospitalizations and deaths.
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!