US officials urge flu vaccinations for wider portion of the population
WASHINGTON - Just about everybody needs a flu vaccine - unless you're an infant or a healthy adult hermit - but far too few of the Americans who need protection the most get it.
That's the message as flu-shot season officially began yesterday with a call for a record number to be inoculated - including 30 million more school-age children than ever before targeted.
"Get out there and get protected and protect others and for sure protect your children," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"People should start getting vaccinated now, yesterday actually," added Dr. William Schaffner, president-elect of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
There's ample supply: 143 million to 146 million doses, more than ever before manufactured. Unlike last year when a surprise new influenza strain emerged, CDC's checks of parts of the world where flu virus already is circulating show that this year's vaccine is a good match and should offer plenty of protection.
Flu kills about 36,000 Americans a year, and hospitalizes about 200,000.
Add up everyone the CDC recommends get vaccinated, and 261 million Americans now qualify. Yet last year, just 113 million of the 140 million doses produced were used - spurring a bid for new ways, from inoculations at schools to voting booths, to spread the advice.
"I should have got Emily a flu shot," a mother says with despair in a hard-hitting video of families who lost children to the flu that CDC just posted on YouTube.
For the first time, the CDC is advising that every child age 6 months to 18 years be inoculated, unless they have a serious egg allergy.
Until now, flu vaccine was recommended only for children under 5 and those with chronic health problems like asthma.
Why the change? Healthy school-age children actually have higher rates of flu than other age groups, and research shows they spread it to the rest of us.
Worse, healthy children of any age can die from the flu - 86 last year, from babies to teens.
Parents may need to schedule an appointment early: Any child under 9 who's being vaccinated for the first time will need two doses, a month apart. A single dose suffices for everyone else.
CDC released disappointing counts yesterday of how many people at highest risk from influenza get vaccinated - including just 72 percent of those age 65 and older, even though Medicare offers them free shots.
Roughly one in five children under 2 got vaccinated during the 2006-07 season, the latest data available. And just 35 percent of young adults at high risk because of chronic illnesses comply.
Also on CDC's get-vaccinated list: Anyone 50 or older; health care workers; caregivers and relatives of the high-risk; and pregnant women. Newborns can't be vaccinated, but a fetus does absorb protection from a vaccinated mother.