WASHINGTON (AP) — More children than ever were vaccinated against the flu last year, and health officials are urging families to do even better this year.
Far too many young and middle-age adults still forgo the yearly protection, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned.
And this year, Americans have an unprecedented number of vaccine options to choose from: The regular shot; the nasal spray; an egg-free shot for those allergic to eggs; a high-dose shot just for those 65 and older; and a tiny-needle shot for the squeamish.
“There's something for everyone this year,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC.
A severe flu strain swept the country last winter, sparking a scramble for last-minute vaccinations.
There's no way to predict if this year will be as bad. But it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, so health officials say early fall — before flu begins spreading widely — is the best time to start immunizations.
“Now is the time to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Paul Biddinger of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Don't wait until it's in your community.”
Boston declared a public health emergency last January when hospitals were filled with flu patients, and Biddinger said he treated many who openly regretted not having been vaccinated.
January and February typically are the peak flu months in the United States. But small numbers of flu cases circulate for much of the year, and Biddinger said a couple of people have been hospitalized already.
Flu vaccine is recommended for nearly everyone age 6 months and older. Yet just 45 percent of the population followed that advice last year. Flu is particularly risky for senior citizens, children, pregnant women and people of any age with asthma, heart disease and other chronic diseases.
Two-thirds of adults 65 and older were vaccinated last year. So were nearly 57 percent of children, an increase of 13 percentage points over the past two years.
But only 42 percent of adults younger than 65 were vaccinated, Schuchat said, with rates even lower among 18- to 49-year-olds.
It's not clear why. But Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University and past president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases said “there are no good reasons to skip the influenza vaccine.”