With the influenza vaccine already available and more supply anticipated than ever before, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) convened ten of the country's leading medical and public health groups to call on all Americans to get vaccinated this season.
Experts see a nation more prepared than ever to protect itself against the health and financial burdens of influenza. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a new universal influenza vaccination recommendation for all Americans 6 months and older, the vaccine supply is expected to top 150 million doses, more than ever before, and a growing number of vaccination locations makes it easier than ever for busy Americans to get immunized.
"The best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu is to get vaccinated each and every year," said Thomas Frieden, MD, CDC director. "Today no one needs to ask, 'should I get the vaccine'? The answer for everyone is 'yes'."
Dr. Frieden was joined by other U.S. public health officials and leading medical experts at a news conference sponsored by NFID and held in collaboration with the CDC, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Pharmacists Association (APhA), AARP, Indian Health Services, National Medical Association and National Influenza Vaccine Summit.
Dr. Frieden also urged all of those who are recommended for pneumococcal vaccination and have not yet received it to seek the vaccine at the same time they get influenza vaccination. Pneumococcal disease is one of the most common and deadly complications from influenza and both vaccinations help prevent these infections and reduce illness and death during influenza outbreaks.
"There is a need to recognize the importance of influenza and pneumococcal vaccination as part of overall preventive care, and to better understand and overcome barriers to immunization," commented William Schaffner, MD, president of NFID and chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. "What we've heard time and again is that physicians, as front line health care leaders, are critical motivators of good health care decisions for Americans."
Physicians Practice What They Preach
Dr. Schaffner shared results from a new NFID survey that indicated 95 percent of U.S. physicians will be vaccinated against influenza this season. Previously reported lower vaccination rates among health care personnel has led to the misconception that physicians don't get vaccinated. While earlier data combined physicians and allied health professionals, this new survey singled out physicians and clearly shows a strong doctor commitment to influenza vaccination.
In addition to protecting themselves, the NFID survey found 96 percent of doctors recommend influenza vaccination to their family and friends, and 92 percent recommend vaccination for their patients. Data from an NFID consumer survey show that physician advice strongly influences patient behavior. Among people who already got the influenza vaccine or who plan to get vaccinated this season, 76 percent say they received a recommendation from a health care provider, while only 35 percent of those who do not plan to get vaccinated report receiving a health care provider recommendation. Of all the motivating HCP recommendations, over three quarters were recommendations from physicians.
"This clearly shows the link between physician-specific recommendations to their patients and action to get vaccinated," added Dr. Schaffner. "Patients rely on their doctors as role models for influenza vaccination. Now we need to get other health care professionals to move in this same direction—to all nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and others—please, get vaccinated and recommend the vaccine to your patients."
Americans Want to Protect Loved Ones, But Still Getting Some Facts Wrong
Almost 60 percent of Americans say they plan to get vaccinated against influenza this season, with almost all citing altruistic reasons. The desire to protect others in the family and community is the number one reason to get vaccinated across age, income and education. In addition to physician recommendation, conveniently offered vaccine and not being bedridden for a week were also reported as key motivating factors.
New consumer-focused efforts by pharmacists this season have greatly increased
convenience and opened up more opportunities for vaccination. Pharmacists administered over 14 million doses of influenza vaccine last season, and are on track to meet and exceed this number this season, according to Stephan Foster, professor and vice chair, Department of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy, and the APhA's liaison representative to the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
The NFID survey also identified ongoing challenges to widespread vaccination. Overall, two-thirds of respondents say they are aware that vaccine is recommended for them this year. Yet, among those who do not plan to get vaccinated, awareness of the universal recommendation is much lower. Some segments of the public erroneously believe that hand washing works just as well or better than vaccination, that the vaccine is unnecessary for healthy people and the vaccine can cause the flu or side effects. These misconceptions were addressed in detail by the experts during the news conference.
The experts also reminded everyone who got the H1N1 vaccine last year that it is still necessary to get vaccinated this year for full protection. The influenza vaccine is a trivalent vaccine, designed with three strains, including pandemic H1N1. As a second line of defense for influenza, two antiviral drugs, oseltamivir and zanamivir, are available and are effective at shortening the duration and intensity of illness when taken within two days of symptom onset.
Influenza Vaccination in Children Is a Special Concern
With influenza disproportionately affecting pregnant women and young children last season, NFID shared promising research that showed mothers are not only highly aware of the new universal influenza vaccine recommendation, but at least six in ten believe that annual influenza vaccination is as important as other standard childhood health checks. However, there remains a high level of misinformation about influenza prevention. Similar to the challenges cited in the general adult survey, three quarters of mothers who say they resist vaccination mistakenly believe that healthy children do not need the vaccine. Also, this same group says they did not get a firm mandate to vaccinate from their pediatrician as they do with other childhood immunizations.
Judith S. Palfrey, MD, FAAP, immediate past president of AAP, stressed that even healthy children need to be vaccinated for protection against influenza this and every year. She called on pediatricians to proactively demonstrate their commitment to influenza immunization.
She also urged all pregnant women, regardless of trimester, to get the influenza vaccine to protect both pregnant women and their babies. Infants younger than 6 months old cannot be vaccinated, but they can benefit from the antibodies they receive from their mothers.
"Influenza is a very unpredictable disease as is the psychology of public acceptance," noted Dr. Schaffner. "We have the weapons to fight influenza. We have more places to get vaccinated. Now it's a matter of both the professional community and the public heeding this call to action to ensure all Americans are protected."
SOURCE National Foundation for Infectious Diseases