Less than 65 percent of health care workers and less than half of pregnant women got a flu shot last season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday, but both are still good increases over previous rates.
“I think there was some concern last year about ‘flu fatigue,’ ” said Dr. Caroline Bridges, associate director for adult immunization at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease at CDC. “However we saw that vaccination rates stayed high last year. And we anticipate the same thing this year.”
Pregnant women and infants under the age of six months are especially at risk from the flu and vaccinating the woman can help protect the child because children that young cannot get the flu vaccine, Bridges said.
The rate of immunization of pregnant women had been around 15 percent prior to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, when the rate rose to approximately 50 percent and stayed at 49 percent for last flu season, the CDC reported in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Women who were offered flu vaccine by their health care provider were five times more likely to get it, a rate of 71 percent vs. 14 percent for those not offered vaccine.
Among health care workers, the rate rose to 63.5 percent from 61.9 percent the previous season. Those whose employer mandated they get the vaccine, however, had nearly universal coverage of 98.1 percent. It was mandatory at Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics the last two years, and last season the hospital got 100 percent compliance, spokeswoman Jennifer Scott said.
At Doctors Hospital in Augusta, which has required it the past two seasons, there was 98 percent compliance, said spokeswoman Barclay Bishop.
At University Hospital, which does not require vaccination but employees have to sign a letter declining it, coverage was 70 percent last season, spokeswoman Erica Cline said.
Trinity Hospital of Augusta took the carrot approach – it was not mandatory but employees who got the vaccine were entered into a drawing for a free iPad, spokeswoman Rachel Covar said. The coverage rate was 74 percent last season, an increase of 6.4 percent, she said.
Overall, health care coverage was highest among physicians at 84.2 percent and in those who worked in a hospital, 71.1 percent, according to the CDC report.
In the general population, 49 percent of children and 41 percent of adults received the flu vaccine last season, which were both high rates, Bridges said.
“I think that was actually quite tremendous in the seasonal year that followed a pandemic year, a year when we had tremendous amounts of coverage about influenza,” she said.
The composition of this year’s shot is the same as last year but vaccination is still recommended this year because immunity can wane over time, Bridges said. However, children under age 9 who got vaccinated last year may need only one dose this year instead of the usual two doses, she said.
This season there are expected to be 166 million doses produced vs. the 157 million distributed last year, Bridges said.
“We believe there is plenty of vaccine for anyone who wants to get vaccinated this year,” she said.