September 19, 2014
3 min read

Influenza vaccinations urged for young, middle-aged adults

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Influenza vaccination rates have increased overall, but rates among healthy adults younger than 65 years remain less than 40%, according to new data presented at a National Foundation for Infectious Disease press conference.

Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the CDC, presented the latest influenza vaccination coverage estimates, which was published in an MMWR report, during the conference.

Thomas R. Frieden

Tom Frieden

According to the report, 46.2% of Americans aged at least 6 months were vaccinated during the 2013-2014 influenza season, an increase of 1.2 percentage points. Children younger than 5 years and adults aged at least 65 years had the highest rates of vaccination, at 70.4% and 65%, respectively.

Influenza vaccination rates among children aged 5 to 17 years increased by 3 percentage points to 55.3%. Coverage among pregnant women also increased and has remained consistent at about 50% for the past 2 years.

Healthy adults aged 18 to 65 years had the lowest influenza vaccination rates, at 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 vaccination because they also can suffer serious consequences from the flu. Vaccination is the single most important step everyone 6 months of age and older can take to protect themselves and their families against influenza,” Frieden said during the conference.

Frieden also touched on the recent outbreak of enterovirus, stating that many of the children with the most severe illness were children with asthma. “Physicians and parents should make sure that asthma is well controlled and that every child with asthma gets a flu shot. That’s more important than ever this year,” he said.

Frieden was joined at the press conference by Infectious Disease News Editorial Board member William Schaffner, MD, Paul A. Offit, MD, an Infectious Diseases in Children Editorial Board member, and Laura E. Riley, MD, an obstetrician and director of labor and delivery at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Paul Offit

Paul A. Offit

Offit discussed the importance of influenza vaccination among children, as a significant number of children who die of influenza have no prior medical conditions. Forty-seven percent of the 107 pediatric influenza-related deaths reported last year occurred in children with no prior medical conditions.

The CDC now recommends the nasal spray vaccine as the preferred influenza vaccination for children aged 2 to 8 years if it is immediately available and there are no contraindications or precautions. However, if the nasal spray is not available, any other influenza vaccine will suffice, Frieden said.

Schaffner presented recommendations for influenza and pneumococcal vaccination for adults aged at least 65 years, which are also included in the MMWR report.

The CDC now recommends two vaccines against pneumococcal disease for this age group: the 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (Prevnar 13, Pfizer) and the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (Pneumovax, Merck). The new combination is expected to reduce vaccine-type pneumonia among adults aged at least 65 years by about 45% and reduce invasive disease by 75%, according to Schaffner.

William Schaffner

William Schaffner

The two vaccines cannot be received during the same visit. Ideally, the conjugate vaccine is administered first, followed by the polysaccharide vaccine 6 to 12 months later.

According to Riley, it is important to vaccinate pregnant women. “Influenza vaccination is an essential part of preconception, prenatal pregnancy and post-pregnancy care. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists calls on all obstetrical providers to strongly recommend and offer the vaccine to all of their patients who are pregnant or who are planning to become pregnant,” she said during the conference.

Although influenza vaccination rates remain high among most health care workers, those working in long-term care facilities had a 63% influenza vaccination rate. Frieden urged health care workers in all types of facilities to get vaccinated.

“It’s good medical policy to vaccinate your workers not only for their protection, but also for the protection of the often medically fragile patients they serve,” Frieden said.

Finally, Frieden reviewed the CDC’s three-step approach to fighting influenza:

  • Get vaccinated;
  • Take every day preventive action. Stay at home or stay away from others if ill, practice good hand hygiene such as washing hands often and covering up coughing and sneezes;
  • If prescribed antivirals, take them, especially if influenza symptoms or underlying conditions are present; they are a good second line of defense against influenza.

Frieden and other panelists received their influenza vaccinations at the press conference, urging the public to take advantage of the ample vaccine supply and get vaccinated as soon as possible.