170 million shots available for flu season

The vaccine's strains are the same as last year, but immunization is recommended for everyone over 6 months old.

By Charles Fiegl amednews staff — Posted Sept. 29, 2011

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Health professionals say now is the time to get vaccinated for the 2011-12 influenza season, and they are attempting to lead by example.

Federal officials and physicians rolled up their sleeves for flu shots and waved immunization records proving they've been vaccinated during a Sept. 21 news conference to promote the vaccine at the start of the 2011-12 flu season. A majority of Americans are expected to receive the vaccine, with about 170 million doses set to be available this season, officials said. An estimated 123.3 million received the vaccine during the last flu cycle.

The vaccine contains the same three strains as in the previous season's vaccine, but nearly everyone is being encouraged to be vaccinated again before flu activity starts increasing in October. Studies have shown that a vaccine's effectiveness wanes over time, said Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"This is a great time to get vaccinated -- the sooner the better," Dr. Frieden said. "We find too often that people wait to get vaccinated or later in the season something comes up, they miss that appointment and they don't get vaccinated."

Nearly two-thirds of the patient population intend to receive the vaccine for the upcoming flu season, according to a survey by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. The CDC recommends that all Americans 6 months and older receive the vaccine. Officials stressed that it's critical to get vaccinated, as more than 200,000 people are hospitalized with the influenza virus and up to 49,000 die from the flu during typical, nonpandemic years.

Physicians have recognized the importance of getting vaccinated and encouraging patients to receive the vaccine annually, said American Medical Association Board Chair Robert M. Wah, MD. He said he discusses flu vaccination, along with smoking cessation, during all of his patient encounters.

"Physicians play an important role in reducing the spread of influenza by encouraging our patients to get vaccinated, and we also set an example by getting vaccinated ourselves," Dr. Wah said. "The fact that 85% of physicians received the influenza vaccine last year shows the importance physicians place on this safe, effective preventive health measure."

Most adults plan to get vaccinated this year, according to the foundation study. The survey shows that 67% of women intend to get vaccinated. And nearly eight in 10 adults said that knowing the strains in the vaccine are the same as last year's would not influence their decision to receive it.

More health care professionals are likely to recommend the flu vaccine to patients than in previous years, the study said. Two-thirds of adults said they have received a recommendation from a health professional to get vaccinated, which is up from 58% in 2010 and 38% in 2008. A physician's advice carries considerable weight, as 60% said they were vaccinated based on a health professional's recommendation.

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