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Various policies could help nationís flu preparedness

Sunday January 20, 2013
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Fewer than half of Americans ages 6 months and older were vaccinated against the flu during the last two flu seasons, 2010-11 and 2011-12, according to a new review of flu vaccination trends and policies by the Trust for Americaís Health.

The historically low demand for seasonal flu vaccinations has contributed to limiting the supply of vaccine manufactured each year. according to TFAH, which identified actions that can be taken to fill persistent gaps in flu preparedness and policy including:

• Reauthorize the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act to address and update ongoing challenges in the ability of the public health system to respond to health threats and ensure targeted investment in flu-related medicines and technologies;

• Ensure all healthcare personnel receive the annual seasonal flu vaccine every year;

• Educate the public, especially at-risk groups, front-line workers and clinicians, about the seriousness of the flu, the need to be vaccinated and the safety of the vaccine;

• Continue investments in expanded domestic flu vaccine manufacturing capacity with government guarantees to industry to assure an adequate supply during bad flu seasons;

• Improve diagnostics to ensure accurate surveillance and proper treatment of influenza-like illness;

• Expand the use of nurse triage lines and other pre-hospital systems to reduce the number of healthy people seeking medical care;

• Cover flu vaccines under public and private insurance without cost-sharing. For example, 12 states and Washington, D.C., do not require Medicaid to cover flu shots with no co-payment requirements for beneficiaries younger than 65;

• Invest in research for a universal flu vaccine to replace the annual shot;

• Sustain investments — such as the Prevention Fund investments that have been used to improve the Immunization Information Systems and other information technologies — in adult immunization programs and vaccination capacity in schools;

• Better integrate electronic health records and public health surveillance systems to improve surveillance of flu outbreaks and improve two-way communication between clinicians and public health experts;

• Allow workers in businesses with 15 or more employees to earn up to seven job-protected paid sick days each year to be used to recover from their own illnesses, access preventive care or provide care to a sick family member. About 38% of private workers, or about 40 million Americans, do not have any sick leave coverage;

• Maintain the Strategic National Stockpile with emergency medical equipment and vaccines and medicines not only to respond to new pandemics but to help respond to shortages;

• Improve disaster surge capacity to better enable hospitals and healthcare providers to respond to major increases in numbers of patients, including through regional coordination, strengthened healthcare coalitions and planning for the discharge of non-emergency patients;

• Sustain federal, state and local funding for core public health capabilities to ensure adequate resources and staff to maintain ongoing functions and respond to emergency needs that arise. Since 2008, state and local health departments have cut more than 45,700 jobs across the country, according to TFAH.

As of November, this seasonís flu vaccination rates were similar to those in 2011 (36.5% of Americans ages 6 months and older had been vaccinated in both November 2011 and November 2012), according to data collected from http://www.cdc.gov/flu/fluvaxview/nifs-estimates-nov2012.htm.

To see the full report, visit www.healthyamericans.org/report/102/.


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