Flu vaccination prevented an estimated 6.6 million influenza-associated illnesses, 3.2 million medically attended illnesses and 79,000 hospitalizations during the 2012-13 flu season, according to a CDC report.
Despite the benefits of flu vaccination, only 40% of Americans ages 6 months and older had reported getting a flu vaccine this season as of early November, according to CDC figures.
The estimated benefits of vaccination for the 2012-13 season were higher than any other season for which the CDC has produced similar estimates, according to the report in the Dec. 13 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. These high numbers are attributable to the severity of the season. The report estimates that last season there were a total of 31.8 million influenza-associated illnesses, 14.4 medically attended illnesses and 381,000 hospitalizations in the U.S.
The estimated number of hospitalizations reinforces what we have always known about flu: that it is highly variable and can be very serious, CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said in a news release.
Children ages 6 months through 4 years and adults ages 65 and older, who are among the most vulnerable to influenza, accounted for an estimated 69% of prevented hospitalizations.
We could prevent even more illness by increasing use of flu vaccines among people of all ages, Frieden said. If vaccination rates had increased from the actual rate of 44.7% to the Healthy People 2020 goal of 70%, another 4.4 million flu illnesses, 1.8 million medically attended illnesses and 30,000 flu hospitalizations could have been prevented, according to the CDC.
The CDC also posted reports on its website on estimated flu vaccination uptake so far this season. National early-season vaccination coverage estimates are that 40% of Americans ages 6 months and older had received a flu vaccination by early November. This rate is similar to flu vaccination coverage last season at the same time.
Other online coverage reports indicated that vaccination among pregnant women (41%) and healthcare providers (63%) is about the same as it was this time last year. Among healthcare providers, the agency again noted high vaccination rates among clinical providers such as pharmacists (90%), physicians (84%) and nurses (79%), but much lower vaccination rates among assistants or aides (49%) and healthcare providers working in long-term care facilities (53%).
We are happy that annual flu vaccination is becoming a habit for many people, but there is still much room for improvement, the CDCs Anne Schuchat, MD, said in the news release. The bottom line is that influenza can cause a tremendous amount of illness and can be severe. Even when our flu vaccines are not as effective as we want them to be, they can reduce flu illnesses, doctors visits and flu-related hospitalizations and deaths.
Seasonal influenza activity is increasing in parts of the U.S., with further increases expected nationwide in the coming weeks. If you have not gotten your flu vaccine yet this season, you should get one now, Schuchat said.
The CDC released the reports in concert with National Influenza Vaccination Week, a national observance taking place from Dec. 8-14. Past coverage estimates have shown flu vaccination activity drops quickly after the end of November. NIVW was established by CDC and its partners in 2005 to underscore the importance of continuing flu vaccination throughout the flu season. Peak weeks of influenza activity have occurred in January through March in more than 90% of seasons during the past 20 years, and significant circulation can occur as late as May.