WASHINGTON — There’s plenty of influenza vaccine to go around this year, and one more type of vaccine has been added to the mix, making it easier than ever to be immunized against the flu, according to the CDC.
There are nearly 90 million doses already available at doctors’ offices, walk-in clinics, and drug stores, and the CDC expects about 170 million doses to be available in total, CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, announced Wednesday.
Last year, about 123 million people in the U.S. received flu shots — a 16% increase from the previous flu season — and federal officials are hoping the numbers increase this year.
People still resist getting a flu vaccine because of misconceptions about the vaccine — such as that it gives you the flu, or that handwashing is just as effective, said William Schaffner, MD, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), adding that federal officials are working to encourage more people than ever to get flu shots this year.
“Our goal is to make annual influenza vaccination a no-brainer for Americans across all age groups,” he said during a press conference at the National Press Club.
Echoing its recommendation from last year, the CDC is urging a flu shot for every person over the age of six months, including pregnant women, who can pass some immunity onto their newborns if they themselves are vaccinated.
In addition to the traditional intramuscular influenza injection, the nasal spray, and a high-dose injection for people age 65 and older, there is a new vaccine that is injected just under the skin using a smaller needle, making it less painful than an intramuscular shot. That smaller needle isn’t an option for children, however; it’s approved only for adults between the ages of 18 and 55.
While children aren’t eligible for the thinner-needle shot, there is some good news for them: children between the ages of six months to 8 years who received a vaccine last year only have to get one vaccination this year, as opposed to the normal two-shot series. However, if such a child did not receive a flu shot last year, he or she must receive two doses, at least four weeks apart, the CDC is recommending.
Federal health officials predict the strains of flu that will sicken people during this year’s flu season will be the same strains observed during last year’s flu season, so this year’s vaccine is the same as the 2010 vaccine. It will protect against H3N2, influenza B, as well as H1N1 virus responsible for the 2009 outbreak.
“This year is unusual because the strains in this year’s vaccine are identical to last year’s vaccine,” said Schaffner.
However, that doesn’t mean that people who got vaccinated in 2010 can skip their shot this year, Frieden said. Effectiveness of the vaccine wanes, so another shot is necessary this year, and the sooner the better, said Frieden, who received his flu shot in front of the crowd and cameras at Wednesday’s press conference.
Overall, 63% of healthcare workers received a vaccination during the last flu season, according to the CDC, which is better than a study last year from the American Academy of Pediatrics that pegged that number at just 40%.
Even if not all healthcare workers are practicing what they preach, they need to keep preaching, said Richard Beigi, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. In order to improve vaccination rates, doctors should encourage patients — especially pregnant women who are at higher risk of complication and death from influenza — to get vaccinated in order to protect themselves against the virus.
Beigi said pregnant women are five times more likely to receive a flu shot if a doctor makes a direct recommendation.
Just the other day I was told by a patient’s family member that they don’t get the flu vaccine, because they got the flu the last time they got ‘the shot’
Are you getting vaccinated? I do.
I get my flu shot every year.
I can’t remember the last time I had the flu, honestly.