Seasonal flu vaccination push starts

Not so long ago flu vaccination efforts each year focused on those at highest risk of getting sick from the virus – the young, the old, and those whose immune systems were suppressed by disease, pregnancy or some other reason.

Then came last year’s pandemic strain of flu (the 2009 H1N1 virus). It hit those traditionally viewed as at low risk of getting sick particularly hard. In addition, H1N1 seemed to overwhelm the ordinary seasonal flu in terms of number of people who contracted it and, certainly the degree of attention it got – at least from public health officials and media types like me.

Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone older than six months of age get vaccinated against seasonal flu. Whether or not those recommendations boost vaccination rates is about to be tested. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the vaccine formulation for the 2010-2011 seasonal flu that includes protection against the 2009 H1N1 strain.

“The best way to protect yourself and your family against influenza is to get vaccinated every year,” said Karen Midthun, M.D., acting director of FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

The CDC estimates that more than 5 percent of the U.S. population contracts the flu each year leading to about 36,000 deaths and more than 200,000 hospitalizations.

“The availability of a new seasonal influenza vaccine each year is an important tool in the prevention of influenza related illnesses and death,” Midthun said.

Two major vaccine makers GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur said they have begun to distribute a combined 100 million dose of flu vaccine. Glaxo has major operations in the Philadelphia area. Sanofi's vaccines division is based in Swiftwater, Pa.

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