WASHINGTON, D.C. - More children than ever have been vaccinated against influenza, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But with the next flu season creeping up health officials say it's still too low a number.
More than half of children ages 6-17 were vaccinated during the last cold months of 2012-2013, which saw households rushing for their shots as a particularly strong flu strain crept across the country. That roughly 57 percent of the young population was a five percent bump over the previous winter.
The numbers among adults are also climbing, albeit more slowly. About 41 percent of Americans over the age of 18 received their vaccinations, just over a two point increase. Vaccination rates were highest among those most at risk of deadly complications - seniors and children under six at 66 and 70 percent respectively.
Government and private healthcare officials praised the upward movement at a press conference held by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases today but cautioned it could still cause problems.
"Last year it came early and it came hard and we'd like to get as many people vaccinated as possible before that," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general for the CDC.
"You don't want to have to have a member of your family die or lose a patient from this disease to get the message that it can be serious," she added.
Common seasonal influenza strains are typically non-lethal and for many adults amount to the symptoms of a terrible fever, including muscle pain, fatigue, coughing and sneezing. But it can pose heightened risks to young children, seniors and pregnant women. Complications are possible regardless of age.
Officials today made the case that even if an individual doesn't believe they are at risk of serious infection, they can still pass it along to others. While the vaccine doesn't make you bulletproof, it decreases the chance of contracting the disease by 60 percent.
Severity of flu seasons fluctuate wildly, but on an average results with 200,000 in hospitals and can kill between three and 50 thousand. At today's announcement Dr. Paul Biddinger recalled last season's effect on his New England residence.
"Massachusetts General Hospital, during the worst of the outbreak, had more patients awaiting admission in the hospital - which was completely full - than we had beds for many mornings in a row," he said. "Patients waited in many hospitals in Boston for more than a day just trying to be admitted with again, severe symptoms, severe illness."
Flu season typically peaks in January but Boston hospitals were already taking in patients, Biddinger said.
This year Americans have a wider menu of options to receive the vaccine than ever before. For those 6 months and up there is the traditional needle injection. But those squeamish around syringes can also take a nasal spray or a smaller micro-needle.
There is also an egg-free version for people allergic to eggs, and a high-dosage option for those 65 and over. Many clinics will also make available vaccines that cover four variants of influenza, rather than the traditional three.