US health officials say that vaccination coverage to protect against influenza is on the rise, particularly for children, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Health officials say the data, announced at a news conference held by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NIFD), is reassuring but still falls short of public goals.
When looking at vaccinations given during the 2012-13 season for children aged 6 months to 17 years, coverage was at 56.6% - an increase of 5.1%, compared with the 2011-12 season.
Vaccination coverage for adults aged 18 years and over was at 41.5% for the 2012-13 season, increasing by 2.7%, compared with the 2011-12 season.
Overall, the data showed that 45% of the entire US population aged over 6 months had been vaccinated during the 2012-13 season. This coverage varied across all US states, with 56.7% coverage at the highest and 34.1% at the lowest.
Vaccination increase in younger adults 'pleasing'
Data from the CDC reveals that influenza vaccination coverage has increased by 5.1% this year for children.
When looking at age groups, vaccination coverage was highest (70%) in young children aged between 6 months and 4 years, closely followed by adults aged 65 and over, at 65%.
This is likely due to the fact that the vaccines have been recommended for longer within older age groups, while children receive vaccines from their pediatricians as part of their routine healthcare, say the health officials.
They note that of particular importance is the increase within the 18 to 49 age group. Compared with the 2011-12 season, vaccination coverage in this group increased by 2.5% in the 2012-13 season, to 21%.
They say this group is historically difficult to reach, therefore this result is "particularly pleasing."
Health professional vaccinations
The data also revealed that there was a record high of 72% vaccination coverage within healthcare personnel for the 2012-13 season, which health officials say is of particular importance.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, of the US Public Health Service and National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, says:
"If you are around people at high risk for flu complications, you need to get vaccinated. And nowhere is this need clearer than in our nation's hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities."
However, she notes that although coverage had increased annually in most healthcare settings, this does not apply to long-term care facilities, which showed a vaccination coverage of 59%, compared with hospitals at 83%.
When looking in detail at healthcare personnel, the data showed that physicians had the highest vaccination coverage at 92.3%, while pharmacists, physician assistants, nurses and nurse practitioners all had coverage above 80%.
Non-clinical personnel, including food service workers, maintenance, administrative staff and housekeeping, all had the lowest coverage at 64.8%.
Disappointing result for pregnant women
Health officials note that although vaccination coverage is significantly higher in pregnant women compared with many years ago, coverage for the 2012-13 season stalled in this population at 50%.
Dr. Schuchat says that personal recommendations from healthcare professionals may boost vaccination coverage in this population, noting that pregnant women whose physicians recommend the flu vaccination are five times more likely to get vaccinated.
Medical News Today recently reported on a study showing evidence that the H1N1 vaccine is safe during pregnancy.
New vaccine options this year
Health officials say that around 135 million influenza vaccine doses will be available this year from many venues, including doctors' offices, public health clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, retail stores and workplaces.
There will be a high-dose vaccine available, alongside the standard vaccine, for those aged 65 years or older, as well as a version created in cell-culture.
Furthermore, there will be a vaccine available with a smaller needle for adults aged between 18 and 64, and an egg-free version for adults ages between 18 and 49.
There will also be a nasal spray available for those aged between 2 and 49-years-old.
Some of the vaccine doses will also protect against four strains of influenza instead of the usual three. Health officials note that the long-term plan is to develop all vaccinations to protect against four strains, but this is not likely to happen for several years.
Researchers recently revealed that they are closer to a universal flu vaccine after a natural immunity study was conducted.
Health officials urge more people to get vaccinated
Health officials emphasize the impact of influenza and the importance of vaccination, citing a severe flu outbreak in Boston last year that caused emergency departments to become overrun. Dr. Paul Biddinger, medical director for emergency preparedness at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, says:
"Last year started with an especially early season with a large number of severe cases presenting together over a short time, but every year we see many patients in our emergency department who struggle to fight off influenza."
"Don't wait until you hear about an outbreak in your area. Get vaccinated now to protect yourself, those around you, and your community."