By Robert Preidt
MONDAY, Dec. 12, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Only about two out of five Americans had gotten this season's flu shot as of early November, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
About 37 percent of children between 6 months and 17 years old have gotten the flu vaccine this year. And approximately 41 percent of adults aged 18 and older have received the shot.
The overall rate is similar to the vaccination rate at the same time last year, the CDC noted.
"We are glad to see that people are making the decision to protect themselves and their families from flu, but coverage is still low and we urge people to get vaccinated if they haven't yet," said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
"We have a tool that is proven to prevent flu illness and hospitalization, but millions of people are not taking advantage of it. Too many people are unprotected," she said in an agency news release.
Last year, flu vaccination prevented about 5 million flu illnesses, the CDC said. The agency also estimated that the vaccine prevented 71,000 flu hospitalizations.
While flu vaccination rates among adults and children are similar to early estimates from last season for all age groups, the CDC is looking carefully at vaccination rates for children and for adults 50 and older.
"We are urging parents to make sure their children get a flu shot this season, as the nasal spray vaccine is not recommended for the 2016-2017 flu season. An annual flu vaccine is very important protection for children," said Dr. Joe Bresee, a pediatrician and chief of the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch of the CDC's Influenza Division.
The CDC is also concerned about a 3 percent decrease in flu vaccination among adults aged 50 and older between 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.
"It's too soon to say whether vaccination in people 50 and older will rebound this season. We certainly hope it will," Messonnier said.
"About a third of people ages 50 to 64 have medical conditions that put them at high risk of serious flu complications; and we know that declining immune function puts people 65 and older at high risk. While flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months and older, it's especially important that people in high-risk groups get vaccinated," she said.
The CDC also found that the 47 percent flu vaccination rate among pregnant women as of early November was 6 percent higher than early estimates last season. Still, more than half of pregnant women were still unvaccinated.
The 69 percent overall vaccination rate among health care providers is about the same as it was at the same time last season, the CDC said.
Last year, the rate among health care personnel working in long-term care facilities rose by 5 percent to 69 percent, but was still the lowest among all health care provider groups. Just 55 percent of those working in long-term care facilities were vaccinated as of early November. That's the lowest among all health care providers this year, the CDC noted.
"It is really important that health care workers get vaccinated and especially important that we continue to make progress vaccinating health care workers who work in long-term care facilities. Many of the most frail and vulnerable people live in these facilities and we know that vaccinating their caregivers helps protect them," Messonnier said.