Saturday, February 27, 2010

Virtually Everyone Should Get a Flu Shot: CDC

Virtually Everyone Should Get a Flu Shot: CDC

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All Americans 6 months of age and older should get a flu shot each year, a panel of U.S. advisers is recommending.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted Wednesday to expand the current recommendations on who should get a flu shot to include almost everyone.

Already, "the recommendations as they stood before the vote included 85 percent of all Americans," said CDC spokesman Richard Quartarone.

The new recommendation will take effect for the 2010-11 flu season, he said.

Part of the reason the committee decided to expand the recommendation was to remove confusion about who did and who did not need to be vaccinated, Quartarone said.

He said that patients and doctors were often not sure whether a flu shot was appropriate, and physicians would have to question patients to determine whether he or she needed a shot.

Now there should be no confusion, Quartarone said: "There is general consensus that it is important for everyone to get vaccinated against the flu."

But one infectious disease expert expressed skepticism at the new plan. Dr. Pascal Imperato, dean of the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, New York City, said the CDC's recommendation fails to take into account that holdups in vaccine production and supply have occurred in the recent past.

"During the 2009-2010 flu season, shortfalls in vaccine supplies gave rise to frequent changes in CDC recommendations as to which groups were eligible for immunization at given periods of time," Imperato noted. "Thus, vaccine supplies became a major determinant of vaccination recommendations."

And while the new recommendations attempt to simplify a complex situation, "any shortage of vaccine will inevitably result in a return to prioritization of vaccine recipients based on age and pre-existing conditions," Imperato said. "The current change in recommendations is based on an assumption that these issues are unlikely to arise. Yet, they have unpredictably done so in the past."

According to the CDC, some people remain at higher risk for flu complications, including people 65 and older, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic medical conditions, such as asthma and heart disease.

These people, "their household and close contacts, and all health care personnel should continue to be a primary focus for vaccination efforts as providers and programs transition to routinely vaccinating all people 6 months of age and older," the agency said.

The current H1N1 swine flu pandemic also played a part in the committee's decision, Quartarone said. Next season's flu vaccine will include the H1N1 strain, he said.

Because the H1N1 flu affected a disproportionate number of children and younger adults, including the swine flu strain in the vaccine will help protect them, the CDC spokesman said.

"This is a practical recommendation to make it easier for people to get vaccinated," Quartarone said. "It reduces illnesses, potentially saves lives -- the vote was almost unanimous," he said.

The CDC will encourage all American to follow these recommendations, Quartarone said.

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