Friday Flu Facts: NFID Press Conference Highlights Important Data
The National Foundation of Infectious Diseases (NFID) held a special press conference yesterday where expert panelists spoke frankly about the seriousness of influenza and the importance of annual flu vaccination as our best means of protection. Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) led by example by getting his own influenza vaccination after revealing some interesting data points about last year’s flu vaccine coverage:
- In total, 46.2 percent of the entire U.S. population age 6 months and older was vaccinated during the 2013-14 season (which is up 1.2 percentage points from last year).
- Coverage was highest among children younger than 5 years old (70.4 percent) and adults age 65 years and older (65 percent).
- There was an increase in coverage among school-aged children, up 3 percentage points to 55.3 percent among children 5 to 17 years old.
- Coverage among healthy 18 to 64 year-olds has yet to top 40 percent,and unfortunately this demographic was hit hardest last season resulting in the highest flu-related hospitalization rates this age group has seen since the 2009 pandemic.
Flu vaccination coverage in pregnant women has remained steady over the past two years at about 50 percent, which is a great increase over the less than 15 percent that were vaccinated prior to the 2009 pandemic year.
- Pregnant women and their developing babies are at increased risk of flu complications because of changes to a woman’s immune system, heart and lungs during pregnancy.
- Getting sick with the flu while pregnant doubles the risk of fetal death, increases the risk of premature labor and increases the mother’s risk of hospitalization.
- Vaccination of mothers protects newborn babies for up to six months, a period when they are particularly vulnerable to influenza but too young to get vaccinated.
- Infants of vaccinated mothers have a lower risk of hospitalization from flu during their first six months of life. Influenza vaccination is recommended for pregnant women during any trimester.
- The highest vaccination rates in pregnant women are among those who receive a recommendation and an offer of vaccination from their obstetrical or other healthcare provider. This was true among all demographic groups, including women with a negative perception about flu vaccination.
Vaccination coverage among doctors and nurses is high at about 90 percent, but low rates persist in long-term care workers at just 63%, which continues to put medically fragile patients at risk.
- Coverage was 72.4 percent among healthcare providers whose employers promoted but did not require flu vaccination.
- Coverage was lowest (47.9 percent) among those working in facilities where employers did not require or promote flu vaccination.
- Education, promotion and easy access to vaccination at no cost in the workplace can increase vaccination coverage.
In preparation for this year’s influenza season, the NFID press conference highlighted a few serious concerns and areas of improvement.
Studies show adults may not seek vaccination because they think influenza poses no risk to them. This is what we’re seeing in the low rates among 18 to 64 year olds and what we need to address in the coming year.
Dr. Frieden explained,
“It is encouraging that over the past few years more people are getting their flu vaccine, but we need to encourage more young and middle-aged adults to get vaccinated because they also can suffer serious consequences from the flu,” said Dr. Frieden. “Vaccination is the single most important step everyone 6 months of age and older can take to protect themselves and their families against influenza.”
Forty-seven percent of last season’s reported 107 pediatric deaths occurred in children with no prior health problems. Dr. Offit spoke at the conference and related personal stories of parents who were completed shocked when flu took the lives of their children.
“The flu has claimed even more children than we know. The real tragedy is that many of these deaths could have been prevented if the children were fully immunized against flu.”
In August 2014, the CDC recommended the nasal spray vaccine as the preferred flu vaccine for healthy children 2 to 8 years old, however it’s important that vaccination not be delayed if the nasal spray vaccine is not available. William Schaffner, M.D., past-president of NFID and preventive medicine and infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, explained that the best flu vaccine is the one that is administered.
“Influenza vaccines are safe, plentiful and we have more vaccine options than ever before—at least one is right for everyone. People should not wait to get vaccinated if their first choice is not available.”
This year the vaccine options are plentiful and patients can choose from the traditional flu shot, a nasal spray vaccine, an intradermal vaccine given with a much smaller needle, a high-dose vaccine for people age 65 and older and an egg-free vaccine. All vaccines protect against the same three or four influenza viruses, which research suggests are most likely to circulate during the coming season. This includes (1) A/California/7/2009 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus; (2) A/Texas/50/2012 (H3N2) virus; (3) B/Massachusetts/2/2012-like virus and (4) in quadrivalent vaccines a second B virus – B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus.
Early vaccination is especially important for children younger than 9 years of age who are receiving a flu vaccine for the first time because they will need a second dose four weeks later to provide optimal protection. The CDC also recommends adding pneumococcal conjugate vaccine for adults age 65 years and older since pneumococcal disease can be a deadly complication of influenza.
The NFID is committed to increasing public awareness of the importance of annual influenza vaccination. Most recently they have partnered with Major League Baseball teams such as the Oakland A’s and the Washington Nationals, for special evenings of baseball and influenza awareness. Every Child By Two Executive Director Amy Pisani recently joined Every Child By Two board members Walter A. Orenstein, MD, Associate Director of the Emory Vaccine Center and Claire Hannan, Executive Director of The Association of Immunization Managers (AIM), to support this public awareness campaign at Washington Nationals park. This event, as well as many others organized by the NFID throughout the season, is critical in helping the public understand the importance of influenza vaccine.