WASHINGTON, DC—The CDC is recommending for the first time that all Americans six months and older get vaccinated for the flu. CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, explained at a news conference last month that the universal influenza vaccine recommendation was made because the flu can be serious even in healthy people. “The answer to the question, ‘should I get a flu shot this year?’ is yes,” said Frieden, who spoke about the recommendations along with other federal and civilian public health officials.
Frieden said that about 1 in 10 people get the flu in the average influenza season. “The flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself against the flu.”
Vaccine options available this year include a nasal spray, the flu shot, and a high-dose vaccine for older adults. Federal officials are expecting that more than 150 million doses will be available.
Formulating a Flu Vaccine
Last year, the H1N1 strain had not emerged early enough to be included in the 2009 routine annual vaccine, but instead its production came later in the season and it required a separate vaccination. The vaccine formulated for this season, however, will protect against the H1N1 virus, along with the H3N2 virus and the influenza B virus, according to officials.
Daniel Jernigan, MD, deputy director for the CDC Influenza Division, said early indications are that the flu viruses that are currently circulating in the US and abroad are very similar to those chosen for the vaccine for this current flu season. “That is very good news,” he said.
In many of the places around the world where the H1N1 virus was very common last year, the influenza B and H3N2 virus are now being seen more commonly, Jernigan explained. As of late August, the H3N2 virus was the most common flu subtype identified around the world.
In years that the H3N2 virus is the predominate strain, Jernigan said that officials “usually see increases in severe illness among young children and older individuals.” He said that this is one more reason everyone should get vaccinated.
Health Officials Urge Vaccination for Children
Judith Palfrey, MD, immediate past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, emphasized the importance of vaccinating children. “Last year’s influenza season was particularly tough on our nation’s children. It claimed 1,300 young lives, many of them were healthy children.”
Palfrey said that every year children under the age of five are at increased risk for hospitalization from complications from the flu and older school age children can get very sick from the flu. Children also easily transmit the flu to others.
Pediatricians, she said, can play a critical role in encouraging mothers to get their children vaccinated. A consumer survey conducted by the National Foundation for Infectious Disease found that nearly seven in 10 mothers said that their children’s pediatrician is the first person they would turn to for information on influenza and vaccination.
IHS Encourages Beneficiaries to Get Vaccinated
John Redd, MD, an IHS epidemiologist, spoke of the importance of American Indians and Alaska Natives getting vaccinated. He said that the agency fully supports the new universal influenza vaccination recommendations. “We very much urge all American Indian and Alaska Native people to please get your vaccine this year.”
Evidence from the H1N1 pandemic last year indicated that the virus disproportionally affected indigenous people from around the world, according to Redd. “Unfortunately, in the US, American Indians were the Americans most likely to report influenza-like illness last year. They were the Americans that were most likely to report having been hospitalized for flu. Tragically, we also had evidence that the death rate of American Indians and Alaska Natives from flu was four times higher than in other Americans.”