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Flu vaccination rate declines for 2017-18

Mario Ancalmo receives an influenza vaccination from Raphael

Mario Ancalmo receives an influenza vaccination from Raphael Lynne, Pharm. D., MBA, at the CVS/pharmacy  in Miami, Florida, on Oct. 4, 2018.  Credit: Getty Images/Joe Raedle

Despite a flu season with a record number of deaths, fewer than 40 percent of adults got vaccinated against influenza last winter — and anecdotal evidence suggests the situation wasn’t much better for kids.

 So many adults shunned flu shots during the 2017-18 flu season that the vaccination rate declined compared with previous seasons. Only 37.1 percent of adults were vaccinated against influenza last season, a period when 960,000 people were hospitalized nationwide and about 80,000 died of influenza and its complications.

Vaccine avoidance last winter was so evident that it ranked on par with the 2010-11 flu season, a period when thousands of vaccines were trashed because people didn't roll up their sleeves for shots. The new statistics were published Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Flouting the vaccine earlier this year occurred as deaths from influenza soared to their highest levels in 40 years, CDC figures revealed. And while the vaccine was a mismatch with the circulating strain, doctors emphasized Thursday that getting the shot can help minimize symptoms if infection occurs despite being immunized.

New data on last winter’s deadly flu season arrive as New York City health officials reported this year’s first flu death. A child, identified only as under age 18, succumbed to complications of the viral infection, acting Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said Thursday. She did not elaborate on the case, citing patient confidentiality laws, but noted the seriousness of influenza for people of all ages, including children.

On Long Island, Dr. Eric Gould, a pediatrician in Great Neck, said it isn’t easy getting parents to understand the importance of a flu vaccination.

“The flu shot is the most refused immunization, and we see this every year,” Gould told Newsday on Thursday.

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“An exception was last year when things got insane,” he said, referring to reports about deaths and the growing number of hospitalizations.

Gould said parents frequently repeat the untrue notion that flu shots cause influenza. The immunizations are composed of killed viruses whose protein surfaces prompt the body to mount immune defenses against flu infection.

Dr. Sunil Sood, a pediatrician and specialist in infectious diseases at Northwell Health’s Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, said he hears the same thing from parents who also refuse flu shots for their children.

“Parents should know that flu vaccination is a part of the recommended childhood immunization schedule. It’s one of the vaccines that children should get. The schedule doesn’t say that influenza vaccine is only for high-risk groups.”

“I blame physicians for not pushing it enough for giving people the impression that flu vaccination is optional,” Sood said.    

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