Officials urge influenza vaccination as coverage rates lag in some groups
WASHINGTON, D.C. — HHS Secretary Tom Price, MD, and other health officials are strongly urging all patients and health care providers to get vaccinated as influenza season approaches. Vaccination rates, they said, have been low among certain groups.
During a Sept. 28 press conference hosted by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), Price warned of the range of potential complications associated with influenza, which can be severe and even fatal, while touting the benefits of vaccination.
“While we don’t know what this season has in store, the science on flu vaccination is clear,” he said. “Vaccination can help prevent you or someone you love from becoming sick and missing school or work, or worse, becoming severely ill or being hospitalized … or even dying from the flu.”
Price emphasized the importance of adhering to the CDC’s recommendation that everyone aged 6 months and older receive the influenza vaccine every year.
He was joined by a panel of experts that included Infectious Disease News Editorial Board members William Schaffner, MD, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and Kathleen M. Neuzil, MD, MPH, director of the Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, as well as Patricia A. Stinchfield, RN, MS, director of pediatric infectious disease services at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.
The panel members discussed estimates showing that influenza vaccination rates have been generally low or stable. The overall rate in the United States rose from 45.6% in the 2015-2016 influenza season to 46.8% in 2016-2017.
In the same period, the rate among people aged 6 months to 17 years essentially remained the same, dipping slightly from 59.3% to 59%. The rate among those aged 18 years and older rose slightly from 41.7% to 43.3%
The rate among people aged 50 to 64 years increased by 1.8%, to 45.4%. Among people aged 65 years and older, it increased by 1.9%, to 65.3%. Among both those age ranges, rates were consistent over 5 years.
Children aged younger than 2 years had the highest vaccination rate in the 2016-2017 season, at 76.3%. They were the only group to surpass U.S. public health goals of 70% coverage.
The panel members also emphasized that pregnant women and their infants are at an increased risk for influenza-related complications. According to an MMWR, 53.6% of pregnant women were vaccinated against influenza in the 2016-2017 season — a rate similar to that in the 2015-2016 season.
To prevent transmission to patients in the clinical setting, experts said practices should maximize vaccination of health care personnel. In another recent MMWR, researchers said an internet panel survey showed that vaccination coverage remained stable among health care personnel at 78.6% during the 2016-2017 season.
Neuzil warned that influenza can be especially dangerous for those in the older age brackets.
“It is critical to maintain the highest level of vaccination coverage for older adults because they are disproportionately affected by flu,” she said. “Vaccination not only reduces the chance that older adults will get the flu, it can also help keep them out of the hospital by reducing the severity of the infection and related complications if they do get the flu.”
Schaffner, who is also NFID director, noted that the vaccine can dull influenza’s severity even when it does not prevent infection outright. That is a point he makes to patients who are disappointed that they were infected despite getting vaccinated, he said.
Recent data show the vaccines’ ability to prevent the worst of influenza’s effects. In a study published in Pediatrics, researchers found that vaccination lowered the risk for influenza-associated death by 51% among children with underlying high-risk conditions. Among children without high-risk conditions, immunization lowered the risk by 65%.
“[These] data [add] to the already strong body of evidence of the benefits of flu vaccination,” Stinchfield said. “I urge parents to remember that even the healthiest children are at risk from the flu, so it’s really important to get them vaccinated every year.” – by Joe Green
CDC. Flu Vaccination Coverage, United States, 2016-17 Flu Season. www.cdc.gov/flu/fluvaxview/coverage-1617estimates.htm. 2017. Accessed Sept. 29, 2017.
Disclosures: Infectious Disease News was unable to confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.