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Only 40% in U.S. got flu vaccine

12/20/2013, 6 a.m.

Despite the benefits of flu vaccination, through the end of November only 40 percent of Americans 6 months and older had reported getting a flu vaccine this season.

In its Dec. 12 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said flu vaccination prevented an estimated 6.6 million flu-associated illnesses, 3.2 million medically attended illnesses, and 79,000 hospitalizations during the 2012-2013 flu season.

CDC Director Tom Frieden said the number of last season’s hospitalizations reinforces what is already known about flu.

“It is highly variable and can be very serious,” he said.

The CDC recommends that children ages 6 months through 4 years and people 65 and older, who are among those most vulnerable to influenza, get vaccinated.

Frieden said most of last season’s estimated hospitalizations were for people 65 and older.

“This shows how hard a severe H3N2 season can hit this vulnerable group,” he said.

While older adults were hardest hit during last flu season, Frieden said there were also 169 deaths among children reported to CDC, the highest number in a non-pandemic season since reporting began in 2004.

So far this season, three flu deaths among children have been reported to CDC.

“We could prevent even more illness by increasing use of flu vaccines among people of all ages,” Frieden said.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of CDC’s Center for Global Health, said the CDC is happy that annual flu vaccination is becoming a habit for many people, adding that there is still much room for improvement.

“If you have not gotten your flu vaccine yet this season, you should get one now,” Schuchat said.

Flu vaccination activity drops quickly after November. Peak weeks of flu activity have occurred in January through March in more than 90 percent of seasons in the past 20 years, with circulation as late as May.