NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 31, 2005

Vaccine experts are considering recommending annual flu vaccine not just for those at highest risk of serious illness, but for everyone.

A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that if more people were vaccinated, especially children, who tend to pass infection to older people, the whole population could be better protected, says Walter Orenstein, director of Emory University's Program for Vaccine Policy and Development.

"The general concern is there is a lot more (illness and death) out there that we don't seem to be preventing with our current strategy," Orenstein says. Influenza causes an estimated 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths each year in the United States.

  • Under current recommendations, babies 6 months to 23 months old, people over 50 and anyone with chronic health problems are advised to get flu shots.
  • Flu vaccine is recommended not only for those at high risk, but also for those who share their homes or provide their medical care, a total of about 190 million Americans, or roughly two-thirds of the population.
  • Fewer than half that number, 83 million, have ever sought vaccine in any season, and the most ever produced was 95 million doses in 2002.

Flu vaccine is more effective in the young and healthy than in the elderly, who account for 90 percent of flu deaths. Some doctors say the real question is getting vaccine, even for their high-risk patients; up to 97 million doses could be on hand this flu season, officials say, but shipments are coming slowly.

Source: Anita Manning, "Universal flu shots urged," USA Today, October 30, 2005.

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