Flu vaccinations more important than ever

September 11, 2009

In the wake of the ongoing H1N1 flu outbreak and the start of the latest round of seasonal flu, the word to parents of all children is to vaccinate sooner than later.

In the wake of the ongoing H1N1 flu outbreak and the start of the latest round of seasonal flu, the word to parents of all children is to vaccinate sooner than later.

Children are strongly encouraged to be vaccinated with two influenza vaccines this year - one against seasonal influenza and the vaccine in late development stages to work against novel H1N1 influenza. Every year, children 6 months through 18 years of age, regardless of medical conditions, are recommended for seasonal influenza vaccination.

Overall vigilance in targeting influenza is the primary goal, especially against the seasonal strains, according to experts who spoke at the 12th annual National Foundation for Infectious Diseases' influenza news conference in Washington, DC, on Sept. 10. NFID conducts these conferences each fall to discuss upcoming recommendations for influenza for the next season and to encourage Americans to get vaccinated.

Experts warn that this flu season is expected to be more problematic than recent years; therefore, the recommendation is to get your seasonal influenza vaccine now. Supply of the vaccine may exceed 110 million doses in the 2009-2010 season.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), reiterates the NFID's message at the conference: "The single best way to protect yourself and your loved ones against the flu is to get vaccinated each year. Vaccination is the cornerstone of our prevention efforts."

The conference was held in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Medical Association (AMA), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American College of Physicians (ACP), AARP and National Influenza Vaccine Summit.

After getting vaccinated for seasonal flu, experts at the conference urge vaccination for H1N1 influenza, when that vaccine comes available in mid-October. But the primary focus is still seasonal flu at the moment, according to William Schaffner, MD, president-elect of NFID.

"In all our concern about the novel H1N1 influenza, we must not let our guard down against seasonal influenza," he says.

Beyond obtaining the flu shot, the basic recommendations to protect against flu were the focus of remarks from Thomas Frieden, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those include staying home when sick, using your hand to cover your coughs and sneezes, and washing hands frequently.

While vaccination is encouraged as the primary defense against influenza, antiviral medications are another therapeutic mode in treating the disease. The drugs are most useful when taken within 48 hours of symptoms appearing. The medications can also be used to treat novel H1N1 influenza.

In related news, NFID recently polled mothers about vaccinating their children. Results showed many mothers do not understand the significance of the need to consistently vaccinate children against seasonal flu.

In contrast, David T. Tayloe, Jr., MD, FAAP, president of American Academy of Pediatrics points out, "School-age children have the highest infection rates for seasonal flu, while infants and toddlers have very high hospitalization rates comparable to those for the elderly. Despite this, too few parents are getting their children immunized. This puts them at much greater risk for the flu, which can have serious consequences even in the healthiest children."

Because children are typically the first of all age populations to acquire influenza each year, vaccination is especially necessary to protect children and help prevent the spread of disease, according to Dr. Tayloe.