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Flu Shot Rates Low Among Kids and Seniors


ATLANTA -- While forecasting a bountiful supply of flu vaccine this season, the CDC reported that vaccination rates remain persistently low among the two major high-risk groups, young children and the Medicare set.

ATLANTA, Oct. 5 -- While forecasting a bountiful supply of flu vaccine this season, the CDC reported that vaccination rates remain persistently low among the two major high-risk groups, children and the Medicare set.

In the 2004-05 flu season, about 17.8% of children ages six months through 23 months were considered fully vaccinated, up from 8.4% the previous season, according to CDC data published in the Oct. 6 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

And in 2005, 63.3% of those 65 and older reported having a flu shot in the previous 12 months, down slightly from 2004, when the rate was 67.6%, according to the CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System surveys.

The 2004-05 flu season was marked by a shortage of vaccine, officials said, but this year more than 100 million doses are expected to be available overall, the highest amount ever. A large amount should be ready within the next few weeks.

"A significant amount of vaccine is expected to be available by the end of October, so now is the time to begin speaking to your health care provider about getting vaccinated," said CDC director Julie Gerberding, M.D., speaking at a press conference.

If not vaccinated in the next few weeks, patients should consider it even as late as December or January, Dr. Gerberding said. "Influenza season, both in terms of severity and duration, is unpredictable," she said, adding that once the virus begins circulating in the community, the vaccine remains effective.

A recent survey by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases shows that about half of all adult Americans plan to get a flu shot this year, but many also think December is too late, according to Susan Rehm, M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic and medical director of the foundation.

However, the MMWR noted that even when the flu vaccine is in short supply, million of doses typically go unused: In each season, since 2000-01, between 4% and 13% of the vaccine doses produced were never distributed.

For children especially, the onus may fall on clinicians, said Julia McMillan, M.D., of Johns Hopkins. representing the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"Many parents rely on their children's pediatricians to help make health care recommendations, including on immunization," Dr. McMillan said. "It is important that providers inform parents that influenza infection can be serious for a child with a chronic illness, and that the best way to prevent infection is through an annual vaccination."

For this flu season, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is recommending that all children ages six months through 59 months - as well as their household contacts and out-of-home caregivers - get flu immunization.

Those 65 years or older are urged to get an annual flu shot and to be vaccinated against pneumococcal disease every five years.

"Health experts have seen an alarming increase in the number of older Americans hospitalized for pneumonia," said William Plested, M.D., the president of the American Medical Association. "The influenza season is an excellent time to remind elderly patients that they also need to be vaccinated against pneumonia."

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