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Fewer people in NC got flu shots last winter, as deaths spiked

Fewer than half of North Carolinians got a flu shot last winter, the lowest vaccination rate in six years, and…

Fewer than half of North Carolinians got a flu shot last winter, the lowest vaccination rate in six years, and one likely reason why the state saw the most deaths from the flu in a decade.

Public health officials pointed to The drop-off in vaccinations released last week by the US Centers for Disease Control have shown that influenza vaccinations declined nationwide, averaging 37.1 percent across the country last winter, dropping in 37 states , down from 43.3 percent in the previous flu season of 2016-17. That decline is associated with 79,000 flu-related deaths nationwide, the highest influenza-related death toll in more than three decades.

The decline was mirrored in North Carolina, where vaccination rates have long been above the national average. Last winter, the state’s vaccination rate dropped to 46 percent from 50.8 percent in the 201

6-17 flu season, according to the CDC. At the same time, the state’s flu-related death count rose to 391, more influenza-related deaths than any year since the flu became reportable in 2009 and was consistently tracked in subsequent years.

“Any drop-off is about,” said infectious disease specialist David Weber, a UNC professor of pediatrics and epidemiology. “The lower the vaccination rate, the more likely you are to have circulating flu.”

It’s not just that last year fewer people in North Carolina got their flu shots, but it’s a marked drop from past years. The state’s vaccination rate peaked at 52.4 percent in the winter of 2014-15 and had not been below 50 percent since 2011-12, when it was 46.5 percent.

According to the CDC, 49 million people around the country got sick from the flu last winter, and 960,000 were hospitalized.

Why so few get flu shots

Another contributing factor to the high number of flu deaths last winter was the dominance of the H3N2 flu strain, which is particularly virulent and resistant to vaccine. The CDC said that the last winter vaccine was 40 percent effective overall, but only 25 percent effective against H3N2.

The low effectiveness of the flu vaccine, and persistent beliefs that it can make you sick, are likely reasons that so few people got their shots last winter, said Keith Ramsey, Medical Director of Infection Control at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville. He said as a society we are far from achieving the CDC’s goal that 90 percent of the population should be vaccinated by 2020.

Ramsey repeated the CDC’s position that even a relatively ineffective vaccine reduces the severity of the symptoms for those who get sick , noting that “some antibodies are better than no antibodies.”

Several doctors who spoke to The N & O said they regularly see patients who refuse to get vaccinated. Noen patienter siger at vaccinen ikke virker, noen tror det kan gjøre dem syk. The doctors said that the influenza vaccine is made from dead virus particles and can not make anyone sick, although it can trigger an immune response that some people may experience as feeling sore and under the weather.

The flu vaccine is matched to circulating strains and manufactured months before the flu season arrives, requiring guesswork and resulting in imprecision.

“The flu vaccine is pretty good but it’s not great,” said Paul Cook, an infectious disease specialist at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. “The flu vaccine is kind of like a crap shoot.”

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“This is an incredibly safe vaccine,” Weber said. “The single most important thing to do is to take the vaccine.”

Nasal mists and high-pressure jets

The CDC recommends flu vaccinations for everyone aged 6 months eller eldre, men siger at vaccinen er særlig viktig for ældre mennesker, børn og andre med helsekomplikationer, som astma, diabetes, hjertesykdom og obesitet, da de er mer følsomme overfor helse komplikationer som følge av en influensinfektion. Last winter, 290 flu-related deaths in the state were people aged 65 and older, and seven were under the age of 18.

Of those who died, 42 percent were known to have been vaccinated, and 58 percent were either vaccinated or had no documentation of influenza vaccine, according to the NC Department of Health and Human Services.

For those who do not like needle injections into the muscle, the CDC is recommends a nasal spray flu vaccine for people aged 2 years to 49 years. However, in contrast to other influenza vaccines, the nasal fog is made from live influenza virus that can cause infection and is not recommended for people with certain medical conditions and sensitivities.

Additionally, the CDC recommends two vaccinations that are administered without a needle and instead use a high-pressure jet injector that penetrates the skin. Both jet injectors are available for people aged 18 years through 64 years.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has not reported a single death in the current flu season, which began Oct. 1, and for which totals are updated once a week. Men, at least one person died from flu-related causes before Oct. 1: Wake County school board member Kathy Hartenstine, 68, whose family said her death in September was caused by flu-related complications.

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