Group exposes gaps in flu policy

A new report issued by a non-profit health advocacy group says that low demand for flu vaccine in past years could limit supplies in years when flu levels are higher.

The Trust for America's Health report cited numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that fewer than half of Americans were vaccinated over the past two flu seasons. As of November 2012, this season's uptake rate was around the same as in 2011, approximately 37 percent, according to CIDRAP News.

"The flu is an annual threat. Some years, like this one, the threat is more severe than others. The problem is we let our guard down during mild seasons and then we aren't ready when a harder season hits," Dr. Jeffrey Levi, the executive director of TFAH, said, CIDRAP News reports. "We need to maintain a steady defense and make annual flu vaccinations - and the manufacture of sufficient supply -- a much higher priority every year."

The CDC recently said that flu season started a month earlier than usual this year and has been dominated by the H3N2 strain, which tends to cause more serious health problems. High rates of flu have contributed to a burden on many health departments and some areas have declared public health emergencies.

The TFAH report said that the unusual nature of this year's flu season has revealed gaps in preparedness as a result of policy decisions. It added that Congress should pass the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act to give federal officials the resources to invest in new technologies and medicines.

The report, among a total of 12 recommendations, said at-risk groups need to be educated about the importance of vaccination, investments should be made in domestic flu vaccine production capacity, the development of a universal vaccine should be prioritized and disaster surge capacity in hospitals should be maximized.