William Schaffner, MD, is professor of preventive medicine and medicine (infectious diseases) at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. Additionally, he serves as a hospital epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University Hospital and is immediate past-president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

Recap of NFID’s influenza/pneumococcal news conference

I had the pleasure of hosting NFIDs’ Influenza/Pneumococcal news conference this year. Every year, NFID brings together leaders from public health and the private sector to help prepare the nation for the upcoming flu season. As usual, I was impressed by the commitment of so many of our medical and public health colleagues. Here are some highlights:

  • Thomas Frieden, MD, CDC Director, told us we vaccinated 8 million more Americans against flu last year compared with the year before — the most ever.
  • About half of all US children were vaccinated last year — up 7% from the previous year and up 22% from the year before that.
  • Also very heartening is that about half of all pregnant women received the vaccine last year. After years of influenza vaccination rates in pregnant women stagnating around 15%, they’re getting the message. According to Richard Beigi, MD, of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Ob/Gyns are stepping up; recommending and administering vaccines. I say: Hurrah!
  • Unfortunately, there was also sobering news about pregnant women who became severely ill with the pandemic virus having a 20% risk for death and increased risk for pre-term and low-birth weight infants.
  • The good news is that pregnant women treated with antiviral drugs early after symptom onset had a significantly better chance for survival.
  • It is easier than ever for the public to get the influenza vaccine. More doses are available than ever before, there are more places to get vaccinated and now there are four vaccine options, allowing many people a choice for how they want to get immunized.
  • Vaccination against pneumococcal disease, a frequent complication of influenza, is often overlooked. About 73 million Americans recommended to receive the pneumococcal vaccine have not received it yet.
  • According to Shari Ling, MD, of CMS, the organization recognizes that pneumonia and flu are leading causes of death for people aged 65 and older; that the cost of care is high, particularly when hospitalization is required; and that recuperation can be long and very costly. That’s why CMS wants every Medicare and Medicaid beneficiary protected against both flu and pneumococcal disease. Both vaccines are free of charge to all Medicare beneficiaries (that includes both regular and high-dose influenza vaccines).

We heard interesting, and I hope motivational, comments from Marion Burton, MD, of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Robert Wah, MD, of the American Medical Association, Winston Price, MD, of the National Medical Association, Susan Karol, MD, of the Indian Health Service, Elena Rios, MD, of the National Hispanic Medical Association and Mitch Rothholz of the American Pharmacists Association. You can see them all for yourself by watching a video of the program.

I am gratified about the positive movement the citizens of this country are making toward protecting themselves, their kids and their communities from influenza every year. Recall that the CDC now recommends that everyone older than 6 months of age in the United States be vaccinated against influenza each and every year. Please join me in keeping the momentum going this flu season — get vaccinated yourself and remind your medical colleagues and everyone around you to do the same.