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Flu Vaccines Plentiful Amid Low Demand

The flu kills an average of 36,000 Americans each year, and almost 200,000 are hospitalized because of flu-related complications.
by Leah Carliner
UPI Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Nov 28, 2006
A record number of flu vaccinations will be available this season, although demand for the vaccine remains low, government officials said Monday. "We do need to increase demand," Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said at a news conference in Washington. "We have increased supply, (so) demand needs to follow."

Ninety-two million doses have been distributed so far this flu season -- the largest effort so far, according to HHS. In November, the middle of flu season, interest in the vaccine usually decreases.

"National interest in getting a flu vaccination has traditionally tapered off after Thanksgiving, so we wanted to give it an extra boost today," Leavitt said.

Influenza doesn't peak until February or in some cases even later, so the time to get vaccinated is now, he said.

HHS Assistant Secretary Admiral John O. Agwunobi said that getting vaccinated is important for your own health and for the health of those around you.

"Some might say that an even greater benefit of the flu vaccine is the fact that you protect your loved ones when you protect yourself," Agwunobi said.

It's too early to determine how many Americans have actually received the vaccination so far this flu cycle, although about 115 million doses should have been made available for the American people by the end of the flu season.

"Distribution is always a problem," Leavitt said. "But we are in a position to help when we know that there are shortages."

The 115 million doses distributed this season will be a 16-percent increase from last season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

National Influenza Vaccination Week, which officials announced Monday, is designed to highlight the importance of the flu vaccination and to encourage anyone who has not yet been vaccinated to do so, Leavitt said.

"It's important that we reach every person possible ... the flu is a serious disease."

The flu kills an average of 36,000 Americans each year, and almost 200,000 are hospitalized because of flu-related complications.

In order to reach Americans throughout the week, HHS officials and partners in the private and non-profit sector will be holding public awareness events, sending letters to state and county officials and using Internet messages to stress the importance of the vaccine, said Leavitt.

Influenza is spread primarily through respiratory transmissions, and the disease typically incubates within the infected person for an average of two days. The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated. Symptoms include high fever, headache, fatigue, a runny or stuffy nose, body aches and diarrhea and vomiting, which is most common among children.

In some people flu can lead to serious medical problems, such as bacterial pneumonia, dehydration or worsening of existing conditions including congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes.

The vaccine is especially recommended for adults over the age of 50, children under the age of 5, those with chronic illnesses, pregnant women, healthcare workers and household caregivers of high-risk persons.

Source: United Press International

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