Although influenza activity remained low in the United States through November, vaccination rates were up from 2010 among health care workers.

Sixty-three percent of workers received the influenza vaccine by mid-November. Fifty-six percent were immunized by the same time last year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on more than 4,900 health care workers.

"Health care personnel vaccination ... is a critical issue, because [it] protects not only themselves, but also their families and their patients," said Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH, assistant secretary for health at the Dept. of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Koh said public health officials are pleased with the improved vaccination rate. Despite the progress, however, the CDC said overall coverage for health care workers is expected to fall substantially below the Healthy People 2020 target of 90% immunization against influenza.

Infectious diseases experts say local and national efforts need to continue focusing on educating health professionals about the importance of flu immunization and the safety of the vaccine.

Among the greatest challenges getting health employees vaccinated are the misconception that influenza is a mild illness and reminding them that the vaccine needs to be administered every year to ensure protection against circulating viruses, said Lisa Maragakis, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. She also is an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"If we get influenza as a health care provider, we may miss work or we may not even know we have influenza. ... But if we transmit the virus to a patient, it can be devastating and even kill them," she said.

So far this season, the flu has been documented in 30 states and with no influenza-related pediatric deaths, according to CDC data from Nov. 26.

"We're seeing little flu across the country right now. But that doesn't mean it's not right around the corner," said Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

She reminded health professionals and the public that it is not too late to get vaccinated, particularly considering that influenza usually is most active in January and February.

Physicians and dentists, who were grouped together in the CDC's figures, had the highest immunization rate (78%) as of mid-November. The rate was 77% for nurse practitioners and physician assistants, and 76% for nurses. Also included in the survey were allied health professionals, assistants, administrative and non-clinical support staff, and technicians.

The top reasons for health care workers not getting vaccinated were doubts that the immunization works (32%), concern about developing side effects (27%) and a belief the vaccine is not needed (23%).

The CDC recommends that all people 6 months and older be immunized against influenza. By the first week of November, 36% of those eligible for the vaccine had received it. That is up from the 33% who had been vaccinated by the same time in 2010.

Flu vaccination rates also improved for children (37% got the vaccine) and people with chronic conditions (42%), the CDC said. Rates remained stable for adults (36%).

"We're cautiously optimistic about the number of people who have already received the flu vaccine. But there are still so many others who need to be protected," Dr. Schuchat said.

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