CDC shows disappointing 2011 flu vaccination data

Recent figures on influenza immunization rates among healthcare workers and pregnant women demonstrate the difficulty in recent attempts to increase overall vaccine uptake.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that fewer than half of pregnant women and only two-thirds of healthcare workers in the United States were vaccinated last year, according to NBC News.

Public health officials have been urging Americans more than ever to get vaccinated for more than a decade with little to show for it. Poor access to vaccine supplies and recent mild flu seasons are thought to be at least part of the reason the overall vaccination rate was 42 percent in 2011.

Nearly 75 percent of babies up to the age of two were vaccinated last year, but they make regular trips to the doctor and vaccinations are routine. For those aged 18 to 49, the story is different. Only 29 percent of that age group received the flu vaccine.

The CDC survey shows 47 percent of pregnant women were immunized. Pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the flu, and the vaccine will also protect newborns who cannot receive the injection until after six months.

"Pregnant women worry about everything," Dr. Laura Riley of Massachusetts General Hospital said, NBC News reports. "We spend a lot of time in this country talking about you can't eat this, you can't eat that. It takes us a little while to get the message out about how efficacious (the vaccine) is. We are preventing a very severe disease potentially and we are protecting your baby."

Healthcare workers are also lagging behind in flu vaccinations. The CDC data show that more than 86 percent of medical doctors are vaccinated and more than 75 percent of nurses. Only half of workers in long-term care facilities are vaccinated, a critical gap when working with patients who are especially vulnerable.

"I believe that the immunization of the health care provider community is both an ethical and professional responsibility," Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University said, NBC News reports. "It's a patient safety issue so that we do not transmit our influenza infection. When an outbreak strikes, we need to be vertical, not horizontal."