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Fewer older people got vaccinated for the flu during the last season than for the prior one, health officials said Wednesday, calling that trend "concerning" because those people have more risk from the virus.
Nationally, 45.6 percent of the nation's population, or about 144 million people, got vaccinated for the 2015-16 flu season, a drop of 1.5 percentage points from the previous season, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But among people age 50 to 64 years, there was a drop of 3.4 percentage points, leaving 43.6 percent of that group vaccinated. And among people 65 years or older, there was a drop of 3.3 percentage points, down to 63.4 percent.
Officials stressed that elderly people are at highest risk from flu. Seventy to 90 percent of deaths from flu annually occur among people 65 or over, according to officials. Women are about six times more likely to die if they get flu while pregnant.
The highest vaccination coverage last season was among kids age 6 months up to 23 months, at 75 percent. Those children are the only group to exceed national health officials' goal of vaccination rates of 70 percent.
Health officials said everyone over the age of 6 months should be vaccinated for flu.
"Get a flu shot, no excuse not to get them," said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, who also urged everyone 65 years old and above to get pneumococcal vaccination as well.
"Getting a flu vaccine is important for all of us, for our own protection and for the protection of those around us who may be more vulnerable to flu, such as young children, people with certain chronic health conditions and the elderly," said Frieden. "Flu can strike anyone and it can strike hard. I'm getting vaccinated today and I ask that you join me."
Frieden then got himself vaccinated during a press conference on the upcoming flu season.
Last season was a relatively mild one for flu. This season, it is too early to know which strain of flu will be dominant, said Frieden. The vaccinations produced for this season do "match the flu strains we've seen so far, but it's still too early to predict what the rest of the season will hold," he said.
This year, officials said, nasal sprays are not recommended for delivering vaccinations because they have been found to be not as efficient as injectable doses.
For the 2016-17 flu season, as many as 168 million doses of injectable influenza vaccine will be available, according to vaccine manufacturers. Officials said more than 93 million doses have already been delivered.
"We do not think there will be any shortage," Frieden said.