Md. Ranks Near Bottom in U.S. for Senior Flu Vaccinations

Please see important note at end of article regarding Thimerosal before having infants and children vaccinated

By ERIN BRYANT, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS - The percentage of senior citizens in Maryland who were vaccinated against the flu last year ranked close to last in the nation - an alarming figure that state health officials hope to turn around this flu season.

"It's something we've noticed, something we're disappointed with and something we're something we're working very hard to improve," said Greg Reed, the program manager for the Maryland Center for Immunization at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Maryland ranked 46th in the nation last year with a little more than 59 percent of the state's senior citizens receiving the flu vaccine.

Maryland's average was seven percentage points below the national mean of about 66 percent.

Only Illinois, Florida, Nevada and the District of Columbia had a lower percentage of senior citizens vaccinated for the flu than Maryland according to the survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control.

The District came in next to last with less than 55 percent of senior citizens reporting being vaccinated against the flu - only Nevada ranked lower.

Virginia came in at 22nd in the survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control, with 67 percent of their residents aged 65 and over reporting that they had received the flu vaccine.

While the percentage of Maryland senior citizens receiving flu vaccinations has fallen below the national average since 2002, last season was the first that health officials regarded the difference to be statistically significant.

The number of Maryland senior citizens getting the flu vaccine showed a marked downturn last season from 2004 when 65 percent of senior citizens reported being vaccinated.

While the decrease in vaccinations is hard to attribute to any one or two reasons, according to Maryland health officials, they suspect that delays in the shipment of influenza vaccines last year may have contributed to the decreased coverage.

In addition, severe vaccine shortages in 2004 may have made seniors feel they had little chance of getting a shot or that they should step aside for less healthy individuals.

"Some [healthy] seniors might have thought that it would be best if they stepped aside and voluntarily let the limited vaccine supply be given to more needy [recipients]," said Reed.

As in previous years, statistics show a racial divide between seniors being vaccinated.

CDC data from January through March 2006 showed that black and Hispanic senior citizens were less likely to have received a flu shot than Caucasian senior citizens.

Preliminary CDC data from 2006 showed that flu vaccinations among senior citizens were up this flu season from last year.

Senior citizens are considered a group at high risk for complications from the flu and are strongly encouraged to be vaccinated by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Almost all nursing homes vaccinate their residents each flu season.

In the U.S. an average of 200,000 people are hospitalized for complications from the flu each season and about 36,000 people die.

Complications from the flu can include sinus and ear infections and upper respiratory infections like pneumonia and bronchitis.

Scientists at the CDC do not expect any shortage in the flu vaccine this season. Manufacturers are projecting that 110-115 million doses of flu vaccine will be available for the 2006-07 season - a 16 percent increase in availability from last season.

Maryland health officials are urging all residents to get vaccinated against the flu if they have not done so already.

Flu season does not typically peak until late January or early February, so vaccines are still available well into the season.

Free flu vaccines are available for those enrolled in Medicare Part B. Local retailers like Rite Aid and CVS are offering flu vaccine clinics at select stores. People who do not qualify for free vaccination can pay out of pocket at the stores for a fee of about $25. The flu season has begun already - the first case of seasonal flu in Maryland was laboratory confirmed by the DHMH on Oct. 31. The virus had been contracted by a woman in Baltimore City.

Important Note Regarding Thimerosal: Parents of infants and children are advised to research Thimerosal-free vaccines. Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative that has been linked to autism. Unbelievably, it is still found in some vaccines.

"When we first started having the hearings, we were concerned that there was an epidemic of autism and other neurological disorders in children, and we found from scientists who testified before the committee over the years that there was no doubt that one of the major contributing factors to neurological problems, including autism among children, was the mercury in vaccines under the title of Thimerosal, which is a preservative."—MERCK SAW VACCINE RISKS—(U.S. House of Representatives - February 09, 2005)

We suggest the following starting points for your research:

Deadly Immunity: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. investigates the government cover-up of a mercury/autism scandal

Google Answers: Which childhood immunizations contain Thimerosal?


Thank you for your important note regarding thimerosal in your article, "Md. Ranks Near Bottom in U.S. for Senior Flu Vaccinations," (11/03/06). There has been so much press about the abundance of flu shots that this extremely important issue is often somehow ignored. The inclusion of thimerosal (mercury) in flu shots is unnecessary and has no medical merit. The recent study in the British Medical Journal concluding that there is little scientific proof that inactivated influenza vaccine is safe and effective for children and adults further exemplifies the need for more research and caution.

Teresa Conrick
Advocates for Children's Health Affected by Mercury Poisoning (A-CHAMP)
Chicago, IL

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