Swine flu fueled seasonal illness's vaccination rate


POSTED: Friday, April 30, 2010

Fears of swine flu helped boost vaccination for ordinary seasonal flu last year, with Hawaii topping the states with a seasonal vaccination rate of nearly 55 percent.

Nationally, a record 40 percent of adults and children got the vaccine, federal health officials said yesterday.

The jump was most dramatic in children, but seasonal flu vaccinations also increased in healthy adults under 50, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers.

Hawaii also was one of five states leading the nation with swine flu vaccinations, the CDC reported earlier this month.

For all ages the highest seasonal flu vaccination rate previously was about 33 percent, in the 2008-2009 season.

Flu shots have been around since the 1940s, but several matters made last fall's campaign unusual:

» Swine flu appeared last spring and was unusually dangerous to children and young adults, prompting more interest in regular flu shots. “;We do have the pandemic driving that,”; said Gary Euler, one of the study's authors.

» Government recommendations kicked in, calling for seasonal flu vaccinations for all children.

» Seasonal vaccine was out earlier than usual so manufacturers could focus on the separate swine flu vaccine.

Annual flu shots were recommended for roughly 85 percent of Americans during the vaccination campaign. Those who were supposed to get the vaccine include children, pregnant women, seniors, health care workers and people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease.

The researchers looked at vaccinations through January. The results are being published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

People 65 and older had the highest rate, nearly 70 percent. That age group is at highest risk for serious complications from seasonal flu.

The rate for children over 6 months increased by two-thirds, to 40 percent from 24 percent.

The attention on swine flu was a strong motivator for people to get regular flu shots in 2009, but it is not clear whether as many people will get vaccinated this year, said Robert Blendon, a Harvard University public health professor who runs polling on public attitudes about flu vaccination.

Health officials “;are going to need a high level of campaigning to keep people focused on doing this year after year,”; he said.

The Associated Press and Star-Bulletin reporter Helen Altonn contributed to this report.