With the onset of flu season, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, in conjunction with a number of other major health organizations, unveiled its plan to combat influenza this flu season, holding a conference this morning to discuss new vaccine recommendations and address how this year's flu vaccine will protect recipients.
Among new recommendations for the year will include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommending flu vaccines for anyone older than 6 months of age and advising people to get vaccinated later in the season if they cannot do it sooner, because vaccinations slow down in November, while the flu peaks in February and persists through May.
While in past years having enough flu vaccine has been a problem, expectations are that enough will be available this year for anyone who tries to get a flu shot.
"Given the robust supply, I think the emphasis this year is, get out there and get protected and protect others and, for sure, protect our children," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC.
Other organizations participating in the announcement included the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the AARP.
The sentiments of the conference participants have been echoed by other health professionals.
"We should have plenty of flu vaccine, given that there are people who just aren't going to take it," said Dr. Carol J. Baker, who was not at the conference.
Baker, the executive director of the Texas Children's Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research and a pediatrician at Baylor College of Medicine, said, "[We're] in much better shape to prevent influenza than we've ever been, historically."
Vaccine manufacturers are also preparing for high demand.
"We cannot anticipate how many people will receive an influenza vaccine this year. However, to help meet CDC vaccination recommendations, Novartis Vaccines is producing up to 40 million doses of Fluvirin," said Beth Birke, a spokeswoman for Novartis, one of several companies that manufactures an approved flu vaccine.
According to presenters at the conference, there should be more than 140 million doses of vaccine available.
"I think the concern this year is how we're going to immunize 30-plus million children," said Baker, referring to the additional children added under the new recommendations.
She noted that the sheer quantity could be difficult, and said that in order to step up efforts, some may need to be vaccinated at pharmacies or grocery stores or at school.
"It's going to be difficult using the model of the physician's office," said Baker.
Immunizing children has been a significant issue in past years because children have a weaker immune system and are more susceptible to flu.
"Every pediatrician knows that influenza can strike a healthy child and have that child in the intensive care unit by the end of the day," said Dr. William Schaffner, president-elect of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
According to figures from the CDC, 86 children died from influenza during the 2007-08 season. More than half of those deaths were in children between the ages of 15 and 17.