Mid-season flu immunization rates are too low

December 12, 2008

BETHESDA, Md. -- A new survey of approximately 4,000 American adults reveals that fewer than one-third (29.6 percent) have been vaccinated against the flu this season. The survey is the first of its kind to measure self-reported influenza vaccination rates during a current flu season.

"This information is extremely relevant and timely considering influenza activity usually peaks in February and the complications can be devastating and even fatal," said William Schaffner, MD, President-Elect, National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) and Chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Professor of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine, Vanderbilt University. "This current rate of influenza vaccination is sadly too low, but there is still time to do better this season. It's a matter of both personal protection and public health."

The release of these survey results coincides with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Influenza Vaccination Week, Dec. 8 - 14, 2008 (http://www.cdc.gov/flu/nivw/index.htm). The event is designed to highlight the importance of influenza vaccination and encourage greater use of influenza vaccines through December and the start of the new calendar year.

In past years, the flu and its complications have caused an average of approximately 36,000 deaths per year (during 1990-1999) and more than 200,000 hospitalizations per year (during 1979-2001). Most of these deaths occurred in people 65 years of age and older. The CDC has stated that influenza vaccination is the most effective method for preventing flu and its complications, which have the potential to be severe.

Dr. Schaffner continued, "Manufacturers are providing more influenza vaccine doses than ever before, however myths about influenza vaccination continue to be a main barrier to immunization."

Key Survey Findings

By mid-season, fewer than one-third of adults polled had been vaccinated (29.6 percent), and more than half (54 percent) report having no intention of being vaccinated this season. Several common misperceptions about influenza are cited as the reasons for not being vaccinated, including: the sentiment that influenza immunization is unnecessary, lack of belief in influenza vaccines in general and concerns that vaccination will cause sickness or adverse events. Of the fraction of adults who still intend to be vaccinated this season (16.6 percent), the majority (41.1 percent) cited lack of time as the reason for the delay. From a geographical perspective, vaccination rates were comparable across all regions of the U.S. Approximately one-third of white adults (32.3 percent) and one quarter of black and Hispanic adults (24.9 and 22.7 percent, respectively) have been vaccinated.

According to the survey, more than fifty percent of all adults who are living with chronic diseases have not received an influenza vaccination. Interestingly, only one-third of adults with asthma (32.8 percent) had been vaccinated, while approximately one-half of adults with diabetes (52.3 percent) and heart disease (52.3 percent), and nearly two-thirds of adults with chronic lung disease (62.9 percent) have already been vaccinated against the flu. While approximately one-third (29.5 percent) of healthcare workers or caregivers polled had been vaccinated, only 12.7 percent indicated that they plan to be.
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About Influenza

Influenza, commonly known as "the flu," is a contagious and potentially deadly infection that affects on average, five percent to 20 percent of the total U.S. population each flu season. Influenza is passed from one person to another through the air by droplets released when an infected individual coughs or sneezes, but may also be spread by direct contact with influenza virus-contaminated surfaces.

The beginning, severity and length of the flu season can vary widely from year to year. Vaccination should be given as soon as the influenza vaccine becomes available, however, getting a vaccination in December or later can still be beneficial since the majority of influenza activity occurs in January and beyond in most years.

Influenza Vaccination Recommendations

The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends annual influenza vaccination for any adult who wants to reduce the risk for becoming ill with influenza or of transmitting it to others. Vaccination also is recommended for all adults in the following groups, because these persons are either at high risk for influenza complications, or are close contacts of persons at higher risk:About the Survey

This survey was administered by health care researchers at the RAND Corporation, a non-profit, research organization. The survey was conducted online within the United States on behalf of GlaxoSmithKline between November 7, 2008 and November 19, 2008 among 3,969 U.S. adults aged 18 and older. The survey was designed and analyzed by the RAND Corporation, fielded by Knowledge Networks and supported by GlaxoSmithKline. Complete survey results are available by visiting: http://www.rand.org/health/projects/flu_survey/.

About the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) is a non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1973 and dedicated to educating the public and healthcare professionals about the causes, treatment and prevention of infectious diseases. For more information, please visit www.nfid.org.

Note to Editors

A panel of infectious disease experts convened to review the survey's findings and discuss the implications for the remainder of the flu season. The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases hosted the discussion with Dr. Schaffner and colleagues Litjen (L.J.) Tan, MS, PhD, Co-Chair, National Influenza Vaccination Summit and Director of Medicine and Public Health at the American Medical Association, Claire Hannan, MPH, Executive Director, Association of Immunization Managers and Katherine Harris, PhD, Economist, RAND Corporation. If you are interested in speaking with the panelist, please contact Elsie Nwankwo at Cohn & Wolfe (212-537-8214).

The media briefing, hosted by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, is supported by GlaxoSmithKline.

Cohn & Wolfe

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