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Shari Roan, LATimes: It’s flu season: Roll up your sleeves

It’s flu season: Roll up your sleeves
by Shari Roan, September 21, 2011

Flu vaccine is available this season in four different types, including a less-painful shot for adults who fear needles, public health leaders reported Wednesday.

That development may add to Americans’ growing embrace of annual vaccination against influenza. Vaccination rates have soared over the last few years. Federal health officials reported that 43% of Americans ages 6 months and older were vaccinated last year, about 8 million people more than during the 2009 season.

About half of all children were vaccinated last year, a 7% increase from 2009 and 22% higher than 2008.

Acceptance of flu vaccination among healthcare workers has also risen, with about 63% getting vaccinated last year compared to around 45% the previous year.

Perhaps the brightest news is in vaccination rates amongpregnant women, which has proved to be crucially important against the H1N1 strain of influenza that caused the 2009 flu pandemic. Among 347 pregnant women who were severely ill with H1N1 influenza in 2009, 75 died and 272 were admitted to an intensive care unit, according to a recently published report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among 85 infants born during their mothers’ hospitalization for influenza, 63.6% were born pre-term or very pre-term.

The 2009 tragedies have lead to a huge jump in vaccination during pregnancy — 49% last year compared to around 15% in the years before 2009. Pregnant women who are vaccinated pass immunity on to their babies for the first six months of life.

The H1N1 strain is still in circulation and is covered in this year’s flu shot. There is no evidence that the virus is any less dangerous for pregnant women, even though it has been in circulation for three years, said Dr. Richard Beigi of the Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences University of Pittsburgh, at a news conference Wednesday sponsored byCDC and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Severe complications among pregnant women with H1N1 were also seen in the 2010 season, he said.

Studies show the vaccine is safe for pregnant women. More information on vaccination during pregnancy can be found on the website for the March of Dimes.

Flu vaccine is already stocked in drugstores, clinics, workplaces and doctor’s offices, officials said. In addition to the traditional shot and nasal spray, an intradermal shot is now available consisting of a tiny needle that injects vaccine under the skin. The intradermal vaccine is approved for people ages 18 and older, although not every doctor’s office is expected to carry the product.

A fourth type of flu vaccine is available to people ages 65 and older which consists of a much stronger dose of vaccine. Studies show older people are not as well protected by the standard flu shot.

Vaccine shortages are not anticipated this year, and the vaccine is expected to match well with the circulating strains.

Everyone ages 6 months and older should receive a vaccine, said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the CDC. Children ages 6 months to 8 years old typically need two doses for full protection. But children who got the vaccine last year need only a single dose this year.

Yearly vaccination is required even among people who got immunized last year and even though the strains targeted by the vaccine are the same, Frieden said. The effectiveness of the vaccine eventually wanes over the course of a year. However, he said, people who are vaccinated now will still be protected through the first half of 2012. Flu season typically peaks in January or February.

“It’s never been easier to get vaccinated, and now is the right time to get vaccinated,” Frieden said. “There is already ample vaccine in stores and doctor’s offices throughout the country. . .There is going to be more access than in the past.”


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