January 8, 2014
Flu Vaccination Prevented Nearly 80,000 Hospitalizations
Last Year

Atlanta—Flu shots offered by pharmacists and other healthcare providers substantially reduced influenza-associated illnesses last year, preventing 79,000 hospitalizations, according to the CDC.

Vaccination prevented about 6.6 million influenza illnesses and 3.2 million medically attended illnesses during the 2012-13 season, according to a recent article in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The problem, according to the CDC, is that fewer than half of the Americans recommended for influenza immunization actually received it, despite the associated mortality rate. From 1976 to 2007, annual deaths from influenza ranged from approximately 3,300 to 49,000, the agency said.

Since 2010, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended that all persons older than 6 months of age be vaccinated against influenza each year.

The CDC noted that the 2012–13 influenza season was characterized as a moderately severe season, with rates of influenza-associated hospitalizations of 42.0 per 100,000 persons, compared with 7.7–23.4 during the previous three seasons.

Especially hard hit were those older than 65, for whom hospitalization rates were three to seven times higher than rates observed for this age group during the previous three seasons.

Also, the CDC received reports of 169 influenza-associated deaths among patients under age 18—the highest number of reported deaths among that age group in a nonpandemic season since national reporting of influenza-associated pediatric deaths began 10 years ago.

“In this setting of a relatively high burden of severe disease, a 17% overall reduction in severe health outcomes resulted in a large number of prevented hospitalizations and medical visits for influenza that exceeded estimates of annual serious outcomes averted during influenza seasons from 2006 to 2011,” according to a CDC commentary on the statistics.

Benefiting most were children under the age of 5, for whom 30% of illness and hospitalizations were averted.

Overall vaccine effectiveness for the 2012–13 season was estimated to be 51%, similar to past years.

Even in American older than 65, where the vaccine was estimated to be only 32% effective, “vaccination likely produced substantial reductions in illness and hospitalizations because of the intensity of the 2012–13 epidemic and the relatively high vaccination coverage in this group compared with younger adults,” according to the commentary.

More than 90% of influenza deaths occur in the elderly, according to the article, which called for more vaccines with improved efficacy for this population as well as continued efforts to increase vaccine rates.

“Influenza vaccination prevents a substantial number of influenza-associated illnesses and hospitalizations. Although vaccines with increased effectiveness are needed, much can be done to maximize influenza prevention in the 2013–14 season. In particular, efforts to increase vaccination rates will further reduce the burden of influenza,” according to the commentary.

Noting that the timing and intensity of influenza circulation for the 2013–14 season cannot be predicted, the CDC pointed out that peak weeks of influenza have occurred in January through March in more than 90% of seasons during the past 20 years but warned that significant circulation can occur as late as May. As a result, public health officials recommended that pharmacists and other providers continue to offer vaccinations now and as long as the infectious disease continues to circulate this season.

U.S. Pharmacist Social Connect