Almost Two-Thirds of Americans Still Need Their Flu Shot

Dec 9, 2011, 4:46 PM, Posted by


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released estimates this week on the percentage of Americans who have gotten their flu shot so far. According to a survey of 4,000 adults conducted several weeks ago, 36 percent of Americans had received the vaccine—that’s 3.5 percentage points ahead of last year, but still leaves room for many more, says Ann Schuchat, MD, director of the CDC’s Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

CDC is observing National Influenza Vaccination Week December 4-10, and the timing is fully intentional. It can take up to two weeks for a complete immune response to the flu vaccine to develop. The millions of Americans who still haven’t been vaccinated could get their shots this weekend and still be fully protected in time for the holiday crush, when they'll likely be encountering many people who haven't gotten their flu shots. Flu typically peaks in February in the U.S., according to the CDC, and can circulate through May, so it’s not too late for the vaccination.

In an update this week based on the November survey, Dr. Schuchat announced that the vaccination rate in children is higher this year: 31 percent had been vaccinated through early November last year, versus 37 percent vaccinated so far in 2011.

Other survey estimates:

  • For adults, 55 percent of flu shots were delivered in medical settings like doctor offices or clinics; 21 percent were given in commercial sites such as pharmacies and stores; and 16 percent were given at worksites.
  • Ninety percent of kids were vaccinated in a doctor’s office; five percent were vaccinated at school.
  • The highest rate of vaccination rate is among seniors 65 and older—62 percent have been vaccinated.
  • Only 42 percent of adults ages 18 to 64 who have chronic conditions have had their flu vaccines. “This is an area where we have lots of room for improvement and we hope we can do better through the rest of this season,” said Schuchat.
  • For the second year in a row, the survey found no disparities in influenza coverage among minority children. The vaccination rate was actually highest in Hispanic children—43 percent. The rate among white children is 33 percent and for black children the rate is 35 percent.
  • However, major disparities in adult flu vaccination rates persist among racial and ethnic groups. Coverage was higher for white adults at about 40 percent, compared to Hispanic adults at 26 percent and black adults at 28 percent.
  • Nearly 43 percent of pregnant women have had flu vaccines. “We hope more people who are pregnant will be taking advantage of the flu vaccine in the weeks ahead to protect themselves and to protect their newborns from influenza and its complications," said Schuchat.

Schuchat reminds parents that children younger than 9 who didn’t receive at least 1 dose of last season's (2010-2011) flu vaccine, will need 2 doses of vaccine this season to be fully protected.

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This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.