Health officials are urging Americans not to delay getting their flu shot after vaccination rates fell by 1.5 percentage points from 2014 to 2015. In a media briefing Thursday morning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr. Tom Frieden stressed that not getting vaccinated can be deadly.
“Getting a flu vaccine is important for all of us, for our own protection and for the protection of those around us who may be more vulnerable to flu, such as young children, people with certain chronic health conditions and the elderly,” Frieden said during the press conference, which was held with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID).
The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get the flu shot. Each year, 50 to 100 children die from the flu.
While 79 percent of health care personnel were vaccinated against the flu last year— a 1.7 percentage point increase from 2014— fewer adults overall got the flu shot in 2015 than in 2014. In 2015, 45.6 percent of adults got vaccinated, a 1.5 percentage point decrease from the previous year. Older people ages 50 to 64 saw the biggest drop in flu shot rates: a 3.3 percentage point decrease to 63.4 percent in 2015, according to the NFID.
“Adults age 65 years and older are disproportionally affected by flu,” Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of NFID and professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said in the release. “During the severe 2014-2015 season, more than three-quarters of the nearly one million people hospitalized due to influenza were age 65 years and older. Vaccination not only reduces the chance that older adults will get the flu, it can help keep them out of the hospital by reducing the severity of the infection and related complications if they do get the flu.”
That recommendation contrasts news reports circulating earlier this month that suggested elderly people may want to wait to get the flu shot because it’s unclear how long vaccination protection lasts.
While officials are advising parents against using the nasal flu vaccine spray because it’s thought to be weaker than the flu shot, two new flu vaccine options are available this year, according to the NFID. One is a four-component flu shot made with virus grown in cell culture, which is different from the traditional egg-based vaccine. That vaccine is licensed for use among people 4 and older. The other is an adjuvant, an ingredient that helps create a stronger immune response, and is licensed for adults 65 and older. The immune system declines with age, and this vaccine may increase protection against the flu, Dr. Wilbur H. Chen, associate professor and chief of the Adult Clinical Studies section at the Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said in the release.
As well as getting vaccinated, to prevent the flu, the CDC recommends avoiding close contact with visibly ill people, covering the nose and mouth when sneezing, washing hands, and taking antiviral drugs as prescribed.