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It’s National Influenza Vaccination Week, and right on time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared an early start to the U.S. flu season. Already, cases have been confirmed in 48 states and Puerto Rico.
As usual, millions remain unprotected, including an unacceptable number of health care personnel (HCP). But, the CDC emphasizes, it’s not too late to get vaccinated. You might want to hurry, though: “Influenza-like-illness (ILI) activity levels in parts of the country are already higher than all of last season,” the CDC reports. “Nationally, the United States reached the baseline level for ILI the week ending November 24, 2012 and 5 states are already reporting the highest level of activity possible.”
This is the earliest the U.S. has reached the baseline level for ILI since 2003-2004. Last flu season, we didn’t get there until March. More bad news: “Most of the viruses characterized so far this season have been H3N2 viruses; which are typically associated with more severe seasons,” according to the CDC. Fortunately, “most of the viruses characterized at CDC so far this season are well-matched to the vaccine viruses.”
So there’s really no good reason to avoid vaccination, right? Well, a lot of people don’t seem to think so – a majority in fact. Only about 37% of people get the vaccine, and the data on health care worker vaccination remains troubling.
According to the September 28 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, only about two-thirds of HCP got vaccinated last flu season – 85.6% of docs, 77.9% of nurses, and 62.8% of everyone else. Breaking it down further, the report noted that 76.9% of HCP in hospitals got vaccinated, compared to 67.7% in physician offices and (unbelievably) only 52.4% in long-term care facilities. Interestingly, and encouragingly, “Among HCP working in hospitals that required influenza vaccination, coverage was 92.5%” – compared to only 68.2% in hospitals that had no such requirement, according to MMWR.
So what’s up with health care personnel dodging the vaccine? According to the report, the three top excuses were “1) a belief that they did not need it (28.1%), followed by 2) concern about vaccination effectiveness (26.4%) and 3) concern about the side effects (25.1%).”
Clearly, more education is needed, and not just among the general public. So good for the CDC in publicizing National Influenza Vaccination Week. It’s even posted some nifty free web tools and e-Cards, which you can download if you’d like to spread the word.