Getting a flu vaccine is on many “to do” lists in the fall, but for those who still haven’t checked it off their list, it’s not too late to get vaccinated. Many people don’t realize that flu activity usually peaks in the United States in January or February, and flu viruses can circulate as late as May. As long as there’s flu around, it isn’t too late to get vaccinated.
Getting a yearly flu vaccine is the first and most important step in protecting against the flu, and CDC recommends influenza vaccination for everyone age 6 months and older. We urge you and all health care professionals to get vaccinated yourselves and offer flu vaccine at every opportunity to every patient—except infants younger than 6 months and the very few people for whom flu vaccination is contraindicated.
Studies show that your recommendation makes the difference in your patients’ decision to get a flu vaccine. You should continue to emphasize the importance of flu vaccination for your patients. And, if you don’t already do so, consider offering flu vaccines to patients in your own practice, even if yours is a sub-specialty practice and you don’t see yourself as a vaccine provider. Even if you don’t offer flu vaccines, you can still recommend and emphasize the importance of flu vaccination as a way to keep your patients—and their families—protected throughout the season.
As promising as it is sounds that flu vaccination rates are increasing among children and healthcare personnel, vaccination rates are stagnant for many groups at increased risk of serious complications from influenza, including adults 65 years and adults 19-64 years old who have certain medical conditions. These medical conditions include asthma, diabetes (type 1 and 2), and heart disease. Pregnant women are also at high risk of severe illness. Vaccination rates increased 2 years ago in response to the 2009 pandemic but have remained stagnant since. Vaccination is especially important for people with chronic health conditions including asthma, other chronic lung disease, diabetes, immunosuppression, chronic heart, and kidney disease. Even if these conditions are well-managed, people who have them are at higher risk of serious complications from influenza. Yet during the last flu season (2010-2011), only 47 percent of people with high-risk conditions were vaccinated.
While people 65 years and older are at high risk, the vaccination rate in this age group has dropped over the past few seasons. Vaccination coverage in 2010-2011 was three percentage points lower than in 2009-2010 and seven percentage points lower than in 2008-2009. The decreasing trend may have resulted from this age group not being included in the initial groups prioritized to receive the first available doses of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic flu vaccine. This may have resulted in the misperception that people 65 years and older are no longer considered a high priority for seasonal influenza vaccination.
Results from a recent survey of pregnant women reinforce the value of flu vaccine recommendations and offering vaccine by health care providers. Women whose providers offered the vaccine were five times more likely to get vaccinated than patients who reported that their providers did not offer or recommend vaccination. Many women who didn’t receive an offer visited a health care provider at least once, which means that an opportunity for vaccination was missed.
Keep in mind that many of your chronically ill or older patients will visit you at least once during flu season. Although many will have seen advertisements for influenza vaccination, they may not recognize their need to get vaccinated. A strong recommendation from you can make a big difference in your patient making the decision to get vaccinated. And while we’re on the subject of everyone needing a flu vaccine, have you been vaccinated yet? And what about your staff? Vaccination of health care personnel is important for patient safety, as well as for your own protection. It also allows you to be an example to your staff and patients by indicating “I got vaccinated. You should, too.” Being a good example can be helpful, especially if you’re talking to a patient who thinks the vaccine can cause the flu, who is concerned about side effects, or who doesn’t understand that people need to get a flu vaccine every year because immunity wanes over time.
During the 2010-2011 flu season, only 63.5 percent of health care personnel were vaccinated—well below the Healthy People 2020 target of 90 percent. We would like to see that number increase substantially this year.
CDC has resources that can help you in your efforts to get your patients vaccinated. You can obtain patient education handouts and posters for your office, copies of the vaccine information statements (VIS), and updated information for you and your staff at www.cdc.gov/flu and www.cdc.gov/flu/freeresources. You can also get a variety of other tools, including those that you can add to your Web page, e-cards for a variety of audiences e-cards, and the “flu vaccine finder” widget, where you or your patients can enter an address or ZIP Code and get a map and list of the flu vaccine providers near you.
If there’s anything else you need to help you promote the flu vaccine, contact us at 800-CDC-INFO or firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re here to support your efforts in recommending yearly flu vaccination for your staff and patients.
Abigail Shefer, MD, FACP, is currently Associate Director for Science in the Immunization Services Division (ISD) of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).Abby′s most recent experience has been as Chief, Health Services Research and Evaluation Branch (HSREB) in ISD which she lead from 2000-2005. She has been a medical epidemiologist in the National Immunization Program for the last 14 years. Before moving to Atlanta, she completed a 2 year fellowship with CDC as an EIS officer (Epidemic Intelligence Service officer) while stationed at the Communicable Disease Branch at the California State Health Dept in Berkeley. Abigail completed a medical residency at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, Madison, WI and is board certified in Internal Medicine.
Abby′s areas of interest and research have included 1) evaluating strategies to improve and promote adult immunization; 2) improving coverage of low income children through coordination of the national WIC immunization initiative; 3) conducting systematic reviews on cost and cost-effectiveness of population based interventions to improve coverage for both routine and high risk vaccination, and 4) integrating immunization–related quality improvement activities at the practice level.
*This blog post was originally published at Safe Healthcare*