Pandemic influenza awareness week: It’s that time again

Flu shots are rolling out, and there should be no shortage this year. A few new articles remind the public of the importance of these vaccinations, especially in high-risk groups (something that I touched on here regarding data showing that vaccination during pregnancy can help protect the newborn).

You can find the guidelines for target vaccination groups here. Essentially, it includes anyone immunocompromised or with conditions that make them increasingly susceptible to serious complications of influenza; those 50 years of age and older; and children from 6 months to five years old. However, few people are aware of these recommendations, and there remains residual misunderstanding of the influenza vaccine itself. More after the jump.

My son recently has started wheezing and having respiratory problems. He’s not had an official diagnosis of asthma or allergies, but there are millions of kids out there who do deal with these chronic problems–and that makes them more likely to end up hospitalized should they become infected with influenza. However, this group still has an alarmingly low rate of vaccination.

Only about half of young children who are supposed to get annual flu shots have been doing so, a percentage that drops to less than a third when it comes to children with chronic medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease.

For children between the ages of 2 and 5, there is a higher rate of clinic and emergency room visits due to flu-related illness than with other illnesses.

And when they say higher, they really mean higher:

“Rates aren’t what they should be, especially in kids who have chronic conditions such as asthma,” she said, noting that children who have chronic conditions are five times as likely as healthy children to be hospitalized with influenza.

Children are also a bit more difficult to vaccinate–if they’ve not received the vaccination previously, they need to have two doses, a month apart. This means that the time to get them vaccinated is now (although the CIDRAP article also emphasizes that even late season vaccination can protect you, and is better than nothing).

The elderly–the group most likely to die from influenza–also aren’t getting (or heeding) the message:

Mark McClellan, MD, PhD, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said about a third of seniors don’t get annual flu shots, even though vaccination is free through Medicare part B. He noted that each year, 200,000 people are hospitalized with influenza, and 36,000 die of the disease.

“There’s a prevention gap here that we see too often, and we’re working very hard to close it,” he said.

Medicare officials are hoping to increase flu vaccination rates among seniors with a personalized, grassroots approach that focuses on preventive care, including vaccination and screening, McClellan said. Preventive services are now being promoted and delivered with the same system that administers the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, he said.

I was in Des Moines yesterday giving a talk on pandemic influenza, and I always hate mentioning that risk for serious complications of influenza infections starts to increase at age 50–because generally, the crowd I’m speaking to are right around that age, and no one wants to see 50 year olds grouped with “elderly” individuals. Yet perhaps if more 50 year olds would start making influenza vaccination a habit, by the time they’re officially “elderly” vaccination will have become such a routine that it’s old hat, and perhaps influenza vaccination rates will increase in this group. It’s a thought, anyway….

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  1. no one wants to see 50 year olds grouped with “elderly” individuals

    Is it necessary to frame it that way? Frame it by saying something like ‘it’s a common misconception that the increased risk only comes with the onset of old age – in fact, the dangers increase from early middle age onward’ (or something like that, anyway).

  2. I was in Des Moines yesterday giving a talk on pandemic influenza, and I always hate mentioning that risk for serious complications of influenza infections starts to increase at age 50

    You don’t hate it at all. If you did, you would listen more carefully to people who speak differently and see if there might be something in it. You don’t hate it, you’re proud of your small talks. Gives you big social status, people listen to you, they admire you, they know that you know so many things they know nothing of.

  3. outeast, I have actually said it along those lines, but I still get the snickers. 🙂 There’s no way to get around that much of my audience is “middle age,” and that’s when the risk starts to increase.

    Charles, I certainly invite you to attend one of my talks so you can see it firsthand, rather than make unfounded assumptions and extrapolations. Indeed, I enjoy lecturing in the community, for much the same reasons I enjoy blogging and teaching; so? It has nothing to do with social status; if I was looking for that, I’d be an MD or something instead.

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