According to reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), confusion about vaccine availability and a string of mild flu seasons have deterred people from getting vaccinated.
Unlike in previous years, there are no anticipated vaccine shortages this year and no “priority groups.” The CDC designates priority groups for vaccination when vaccine supplies are limited or delayed.
Nearly every year, winter influenza epidemics in the United States affect approximately 5 percent to 20 percent of the population, causing about 300,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths. People aged 65 years and older account for up to 90 percent of all influenza-related deaths.
While any adult or school-age child who wants to reduce the risk of getting the flu can be vaccinated, the CDC recommends annual vaccination for those at high risk of developing serious complications from the flu.
The high-risk groups are:
- People 65 years of age and above
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities that house people with long-term illnesses
- Adults and children 6 months and older with chronic heart or lung conditions, including asthma
- Adults and children 6 months and older who, during the previous year, required regular medical care or were hospitalized for a metabolic disease, such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and a weakened immune system caused by medications or infections
- Children 6 months to 18 years of age who are on long-term aspirin therapy (Children given aspirin while they have the flu are at risk for Reye syndrome.)
- Women who are pregnant
- All children 6 to 23 months of age
- People with any condition that can compromise respiratory function or cause breathing or swallowing difficulty, such as seizure, nerve and muscle disorders; brain diseases or injuries; and spinal cord injuries
The CDC also recommends flu shots for people 50 to 64 years of age, because nearly one-third of the people in this age group have medical conditions that increase their risk for serious flu complications.
Also, to prevent the spread of infection to the high-risk population, the CDC recommends vaccination for all those who have close contact with someone in the high-risk groups. This includes all health-care workers, caregivers of children 6 to 23 months of age, and those in close contact with people age 65 and above.
Flu season runs from October through March, with vaccine supplies becoming available at the onset of the season.
Peak season for contracting the flu is in January and February, so getting your shot even as late as December can provide benefits, health officials said.
To schedule an appointment with a Cooper University physician at an office near you, call our physician referral and information service at 1-800-8 COOPER (1-800-826-6737).