Health and Science

Flu season: Fewer than half of Americans vaccinated, officials call for nearly everyone to get a shot

Key Points
  • Fewer than 50 percent of all Americans were vaccinated against the flu last season.
  • Officials want at least 70 percent of people to get a flu shot.
  • This season, officials say people should only get an injectable vaccine, not a nasal spray vaccine.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, left, receives a flu vaccination from Sharon Walsh-Bonadies, RN., right, during a news conference recommending everyone age six months an older be vaccinated against influenza each year, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017 in Washington.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais | AP

Slightly fewer than half of all Americans were vaccinated for the flu last season, a top federal health official warned Thursday, as he called for nearly every person to get a shot by October for the coming season.

"The science on flu vaccination is clear," said Dr. Tom Price, secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.

"Vaccination can help prevent you or someone you love from becoming sick and missing school, or work, or worse, becoming severely ill or being hospitalized from or even dying from the flu."

The hospitalization rate last season for influenza was nearly double that of the 2015-2016 season, officials said.

Price himself got vaccinated Thursday during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington.


He said that for this season, health officials are recommending only injectable vaccines, not nasal spray flu vaccine.

"I urge everyone 6 months and older to do the same as soon as vaccine is available in their community," said Price.

He noted that next year is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of Spanish flu, which infected a half billion people, and killed up to 5 percent of the world's population.

Data released Thursday showed that while there were slight increases in the vaccination rates among people most vulnerable to the flu — adults over age 50 — there were "mostly stagnant vaccination rates among all age groups," according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

The flu vaccination rate among all Americans was 48.6 percent last season, up just 1.2 percentage points from the prior season.

Among children age 6 months through 23 months, the vaccination rate was 76.3 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That was the only age group that exceeded the public health goal of 70 percent vaccination coverage, according to NFID.

Officials said that for the 2017-2018 season, vaccine manufacturers have estimated that as many as 166 million doses of flu vaccine will be available nationally. More than 73 million doses have already been delivered.

The vaccines this season have been modified to protect against the flu viruses that research suggests will be most common in coming months.

Price took no questions at the news conference.

The health secretary in the past week has come under heavy criticism after the news site Politico revealed he had taken 26 flights on private jets since May, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $400,000.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he is "not happy" with Price's use of charter flights. Trump answered, "We'll see," when asked if he would fire Price.