By Julie Steenhuysen
CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. health officials are looking to capitalize on significant gains in flu vaccination rates with a new campaign emphasizing the need for all Americans over six months of age to get a flu shot.
Last season, nearly 131 million people, or 43 percent of the U.S. population, received the influenza vaccine, representing a steady increase over several years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But as the memory and urgency of the 2009 flu pandemic fades, health officials want to make sure Americans continue to turn up for their annual flu shots by offering them in more places and in new forms, including vaccination with a tiny needle designed to make the experience as painless as possible.
"Eight million more Americans got vaccinated against the flu last year. That is the most people who have ever been vaccinated in this country," Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said at a news conference.
Frieden said more pregnant women last year were vaccinated than ever before, with about half getting a flu vaccine, as more doctors recommended it for their expecting patients. About half of U.S. children got the vaccine last year, a seven percent increase over prior years.
The CDC now recommends that everyone six months and older should get a flu shot this year and every year.
"It's getting easier to do that in terms of the ways you can get vaccinated and the amount of vaccine available," he told the briefing.
85 MILLION DOSES SO FAR
More than 85 million doses of influenza vaccine are already available in doctors' offices, public health clinics, pharmacies and retail stores. And all 50 U.S. states now allow pharmacists to administer influenza vaccine.
Eventually, CDC officials expect the five companies that make flu vaccine for the U.S. market to provide 166 million doses, up from 157 million doses distributed last year.
Those makers include: Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, AstraZeneca unit MedImmune, and CSL.
There are now four vaccine options: the traditional shot in the arm, a nasal spray, a high-dose vaccine for older adults and Sanofi's newly launched Fluzone Intradermal vaccine, which uses a short needle and delivers the vaccine into the skin rather than the muscle.
"Our goal is to make annual vaccination a no-brainer among all age groups," Dr. William Schaffner, of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) told the briefing.
According to a national survey by the NFID, nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults say they plan to get vaccinated this year.
According to a national survey released separately on Wednesday by Walgreen Co, the most recent flu season resulted in 100 million lost work days, nearly $7 billion in lost wages and 32 million missed school days.