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Experts Urge More Flu Vaccination

Health Officials Say 2006-2007 Supplies Should Be Adequate
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 4, 2006 -- Buoyed by expectations of adequate vaccine supplies, public health officials Wednesday urged more Americans to seek flu shots this fall and winter.

The call for widespread vaccination has become something of an annual ritual for health officials who stress that it greatly cuts impact of a disease that hospitalizes 200,000 Americans and kills 36,000 every year. But those efforts have been hampered in recent years by safety and distribution problems that interrupted supplies and kept convenient vaccinations from the hands of some doctors.

Officials now say they expect record vaccine supplies topping 100 million doses this year. That's from a combination of injected flu shots and an inhaled vaccine called FluMist.

"We would like to see that vaccine used to protect as many people as possible," says William Schaffner, MD, vice president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

But some solo and small-group doctors have complained of inadequate supplies for their offices, even while big corporate retailers stock large supplies.

Twenty-six million vaccine doses were shipped in September, while 50 million more are expected to go out to clinics and offices this month, says Julie L. Gerberding, MD, director of the CDC.

"The distribution for flu vaccine is always challenging in part because it's in private hands," Gerberding told reporters. "Not all providers can get everything they've ordered just now."

Federal advisors expanded vaccination recommendations this year to include all children between 6 months and 5 years of age. Previous recommendations were limited to children up to 2 years of age.

Doctors are being urged to deliver vaccine doses for infants and young children in two separate doses one month apart. That could present a problem for crowded pediatricians' offices and for parents with limited time to attend appointments. It's "a new challenge for pediatric physicians," says Julie A. McMillan, MD, a professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Recommendations also include all adults over 50, as well as adults with chronic conditions or suppressed immune systems. Health care workers or caregivers for young children, the elderly, or the ill are also recommended for vaccination.

Perception Problem

Shortages of past years forced officials to ask lower-risk people to forgo vaccination to preserve supplies. Large stocks this year are leading officials to encourage healthy, younger adults and children to seek shots.

Still, an NFID telephone survey of 1,014 adults showed that half do not plan to seek flu vaccinations this year. More than four in 10 don't think that influenzainfluenza is serious enough to warrant vaccination.

Public health experts say they continue to battle against myths surrounding the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine. Nearly half in the survey said they feared the vaccine would cause influenza.

"A myth! A myth! A very persistent myth, but a myth nonetheless," Schaffner says.

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