Seasonal flu has been tame this year, but more people are getting vaccinated in hopes of protecting themselves against the virus, according to government data out today.

The growth is strongest among children. Some 36.7 percent of children aged 6 months to 17 years had received a flu shot as of early November, an increase of 6.1 percentage points from the same time last year, according to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hispanic and black children are now reporting higher levels of flu shot coverage, a promising sign because those groups reported higher instances of illness two years ago during the H1N1 pandemic. Some 43.4 percent of Hispanic children and 35.5 percent of black children have gotten flu shots, compared with 33.5 percent of non-Hispanic whites, according to the CDC.

In recent years, public health officials have tried to educate minority groups by conducting outreach on the importance of flu shots, via pharmacies, community health centers and other programs, said Howard Koh, assistant secretary for Health, Department of Health and Human Services, in a teleconference with reporters.

Overall, flu shot rates among all demographics rose 3.5 percentage points, increasing to 36.3 percent of the population, according to the CDC. That represents about 111 million Americans.
An estimated 130.9 million people, or 43 percent of the U.S. populace, got a flu shot last season, according to the CDC.

The flu season historically increases in January and peaks in February. But so far this season, influenza has been observed in just 30 states. “We’re seeing little flu across the country right now,” said Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Only 1.4 percent of patient visits to physicians were from flu-like illness, compare to a peak of 8 percent seen during the H1N1 pandemic in early 2010, wrote Larry Marsh, a Barclays Capital health care analyst, in an investor’s note out also out today.

Influenza is estimated to infect 5 percent to 20 percent of the population every year, Koh said, with more than 200,000 people ending up in the hospital.