Shooting for higher flu vaccination rates

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Vaccine for the 2011-12 flu season is now available, and health experts recommend that all of us get immunized for the fall and winter months that lie ahead. The recommendation, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), applies to everyone over six months of age. Since the immunity conferred by last year s vaccine has waned by now, even those who were vaccinated last year should get another shot within the next few months. This year s vaccine, like last year s, protects against H1N1 (swine flu) and two other flu strains.

Yet despite heightened awareness in the wake of the 2009-2010 swine flu outbreak, the CDC reports that not enough people are getting the needed protection. During last year s flu season, only 63.5 percent of healthcare workers were vaccinated and, equally as disconcerting, only 49 percent of pregnant women were inoculated. Health experts are especially concerned with raising the rates of vaccination in these two groups: healthcare workers daily, intimate contact with patients puts both them and the vulnerable patients they come in contact with at greater risk for contracting or spreading the virus; pregnant women (and their babies, both before and after birth) are at greater risk of severe flu complications.

The rate at which healthcare workers are being immunized is still unacceptable, says ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross. We continue to advocate that influenza vaccination be required for everyone in the healthcare field. He notes that, among the small percentage of doctors and hospital workers whose workplaces have made immunization mandatory, 98 percent have been vaccinated a rate that should be the norm.

Dr. Ross also emphasizes the need for more pregnant women to be informed of the risk they take by not getting vaccinated. Too many expectant mothers still fear vaccination, he says, when, actually, the flu vaccine not only protects both mother and child but improves neonatal health.