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Flu Vaccine Should Be More Effective: CDC

And officials are urging more Americans than ever before to get a shot this season

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 24 (HealthDay News) -- With flu season fast approaching, U.S. health officials predicted Wednesday that this year's vaccine will be a better match for the circulating influenza strains than last year's vaccine proved to be.

Not only do officials believe this year's vaccine will be more effective, they're saying that supplies will be plentiful, too. So, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that more Americans than ever be vaccinated against the flu, including every child age 6 months to 18 years of age, unless they have a serious egg allergy.

"Flu viruses are constantly changing, and that's why we have to update the vaccine every year," Dr. Daniel B. Jernigan, deputy director of the CDC's Influenza Division, said during a morning teleconference Wednesday.

The new vaccine contains three new flu strains -- two influenza A strains and one influenza B strain.

"These are the three flu strains that research indicates are the most likely to cause illness during the upcoming flu season," Jernigan said. "Our challenge is to choose three viruses to put in the vaccine several months ahead of when the virus starts to circulate. We are optimistic that this year's vaccine will be on target in protecting against the flu."

Last year's vaccine was only a partial match to the circulating flu strains, with two of the three vaccine components proving ineffective, Jernigan said.

This year, the CDC is recommending that more people than ever get a flu shot. And, for the first time, the agency is recommending that all children aged 6 months to 18 years get vaccinated.

"This is an extension of the previous recommendation to vaccinate children up to 2 years of age and those with underlying medical conditions," CDC Director Dr. Julie L. Gerberding said during the teleconference.

The CDC hopes this recommendation will cut the number of flu cases in schools, which make up a high percentage of all flu cases, because children tend to spread the disease, Gerberding said.

Others who should be vaccinated include adults over 50, people who have chronic illnesses, pregnant women, and people who are likely to come in contact with people who have flu, including all health-care workers, Gerberding said.

"This is the largest group of people we have ever recommended get flu shots. That's about 261 million people in the United States," Gerberding said.

The vaccine supply this year should be more than adequate, she added, with about 146 million doses available. Because many Americans who should be vaccinated never get an inoculation, vaccine manufacturers typically produce fewer doses than would be needed if all people were to get a shot.

"We still face an excess burden of mortality from what is our nation's number one vaccine-preventable disease," Gerberding, said. Every year, there are 36,000 deaths, 200,000 hospitalizations and countless days of work and school lost due to flu, she noted.

Last year, 72 percent of those aged 65 and older received flu vaccinations. Among adults 18 to 49, 35 percent were vaccinated. For people 50 to 64, 42 percent were vaccinated. For children between 2 months and 2 years of age, only 21 percent were vaccinated. Only 42 percent of health-care workers were vaccinated, Gerberding said.

People can get a flu shot as soon as the vaccine is available, and they can continue to get one throughout the flu season, into December, January, and beyond. While flu outbreaks can happen as early as October, most of the time flu activity peaks in January or later, according to the CDC.

More information

For more on flu, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Sept. 24, 2008, teleconference with Julie L. Gerberding, M.D., M.P.H., director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; Daniel B. Jernigan, M.D., M.P.H., deputy director, Influenza Division, CDC

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