PA Health Secretary Urges Flu Shots for High-Risk Individuals

HARRISBURG, Pa., September 29, 2005 -- Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Calvin B. Johnson today emphasized the importance of Pennsylvanians who meet the definition of being at "high-risk" for influenza to get a vaccination as the flu season approaches.

"If you are over 65 or between 6 and 23 months of age, have a serious medical condition, are pregnant, provide direct patient care or live in a long-term care facility, you are considered at high risk for getting the flu and need to get a flu shot," said Dr. Johnson. "If you’re not high-risk, we’re asking you to wait until the most vulnerable people have been vaccinated - at least until Oct. 24. Last year, many Pennsylvanians ’stepped aside’ to make sure high-risk individuals received available flu vaccine first, and we’re asking them to do the same this year."

With the current uncertainties regarding available influenza vaccine doses and distribution, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that the following priority groups get their flu vaccine first, through Oct. 24, 2005:

  • persons aged 65 years and older;
  • persons aged 2-64 years with medical conditions;
  • children aged 6-23 months;
  • pregnant women;
  • residents of long-term care facilities;
  • health-care personnel who provide direct patient care;
  • out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of children aged less than 6 months; and
  • evacuees of recent hurricanes older than 6 months living in crowded group settings.

Anyone not in a high-risk group who would like a flu shot should schedule their vaccination for after Oct. 24, with their primary care provider. Healthy persons aged 5-49 years who are not pregnant, including health-care workers who are not caring for severely immunocompromised patients in special-care units, can receive the live attenuated influenza vaccine (FluMist) at any time.

Four manufacturers expect to provide more than 80 million doses of influenza vaccine nationwide this year: Sanofi Pasteur, Inc. expects production of 60 million doses; Chiron Corporation expects production of 18-26 million doses upon final Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval; GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Inc., whose license application was approved by the FDA on Aug. 31, 2005, expects production of 8 million doses; and MedImmune Vaccines, Inc., the producer of live attenuated influenza vaccine (FluMist), expects production of 3 million doses.

"Pennsylvania has already seen its first flu case of the season in a member of the high-risk group - a child under the age of 2 from the Philadelphia area who has recovered - which reinforces the need for priority groups to be vaccinated early," Dr. Johnson said. "While peak flu season is December through March, it is important for individuals to take the preventive measures, such as washing your hands, covering your mouth when you cough and staying home when you are sick, to reduce the chances of catching the flu."

Dr. Johnson also urged high-risk individuals to receive the pneumococcal vaccine. Pneumonia is one of the serious illnesses that can result from getting the flu.

It is also important to consult with your medical provider as soon as the first symptoms of influenza appear since certain prescription drugs (antivirals) may lessen the duration and severity of the illness if taken early. Dr. Johnson suggested consulting a physician for further information.

For more information about influenza visit the Department of Health website at www.health.state.pa.us or call the Department of Health at 1-877-PA HEALTH.

Posted: September 2005


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