Survey shows influenza vaccinations off to good start
A little more than a third of children in Minnesota's most populous area have been vaccinated against influenza so far this year, according to a national survey conducted in mid-November. While that's a start, state health officials say, more people need to be vaccinated before the peak of the season hits.
Influenza can be a serious, life threatening illness. Older seniors and very young children are among those most susceptible to complications from influenza.
The telephone survey was conducted between Nov. 1 and Nov. 14 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide in-season estimates of influenza vaccination coverage and knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors regarding influenza vaccines nationally and in 20 local areas. Minnesota's seven-county Twin Cities metro area was one of the 20 local areas. The results were provided to states late last week. The survey showed that 35.8 percent of children 6 months to 17 years had received either a flu shot or nasal spray.
"While we're off to a good start with vaccination, we know that we can do much better," said Kristen Ehresmann, head of the infectious disease division for the Minnesota Department of Health. "We still have more than 64 percent of children who are unvaccinated and thus unprotected from influenza," she said.
Health officials now recommend that everyone over the age of 6 months be vaccinated for influenza (unless they cannot receive one for medical reasons). Still of special concern are those at high risk for serious complications from influenza. These include pregnant women, seniors, young children and those with asthma, diabetes or other chronic conditions.
Children under six months of age cannot receive flu vaccine, so household contacts should be vaccinated to protect the very young. In addition, flu shots are strongly recommended for health care workers to help protect those most susceptible to influenza.
According to the same survey, an additional 20 percent of parents said they intended to get their children vaccinated during or before the end of the flu season.
"If all those who are thinking of getting their children vaccinated did so in the next few weeks, that would be a major step toward the level of vaccination we'd like to see," Ehresmann said. Studies show that vaccinating school-age children against seasonal influenza can be effective in preventing the spread of flu to the wider community.
"My message to parents - and all Minnesotans - is, don't wait to see how severe the flu season is going to be before you vaccinate. Just get vaccinated soon."
Flu activity in some southeastern states is increasing rapidly and may soon be widespread. While it's still sporadic in Minnesota, it's only a matter of time before it becomes widespread here as well, health officials noted. Flu season in Minnesota typically runs from October through April, and usually peaks in January or February.
According to the survey, Minnesota's (seven-county) vaccination rates for children were lower than for some other segments of the local population, but overall Minnesota's rates were above the national average. About 70 percent of adults age 65 and over reported being vaccinated already, compared with 64 percent nationally; health care workers were at 61 percent compared with 49 percent nationally; and about 43 percent of adults 18 and over were vaccinated, compared with 34 percent nationally.
Nevertheless, there is room for improvement in those Minnesota rates, too, Ehresmann said.
Fortunately, there are abundant opportunities to get vaccinated this season, she noted. The supply of vaccine is plentiful and there are more providers than ever before offering vaccine. Many communities around the state are offering additional vaccination opportunities during Minnesota's "Ban the Bug" campaign Dec. 5-11, which is also National Influenza Vaccination Week, as well as through the month of December.
The cost of immunization or lack of health insurance should not be a barrier, Ehresmann noted. Free and low-cost vaccinations are available through many local public health agencies.
To find a flu vaccination clinic near you, or for more information on influenza, visit www.mdhflu.com. A summary of the CDC survey can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/vaccination/vaccinecoverage.htm.