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Fewer Americans Getting Flu Shots

Mixed reports on the front lines of influenza

Suburban Journals, Jim Merkel, Nov 15, 2010

With syringe in hand, Colleen Goessling is ready to give flu shots to anyone who comes into the Waterloo office of the Monroe County Health Department. So far, though, Goessling hasn't given out as many shots as last year.

"People haven't come out yet. I don't know if it's the weather or what," said Goessling, a licensed practical nurse. "Numbers just aren't up this year."

Goessling's observations match what a Consumer Reports survey found. Among those polled, only 37 percent said they would definitely get this year's flu shot, which includes last year's H1N1 vaccine. Thirty-one percent said it depends. Thirty percent said they won't get the vaccine this year.

Marie Reyne sees the same trend at Gateway Regional Medical Center in Granite City. As infection control coordinator, she's in charge of a program to vaccinate employees, volunteers and a club for people over 50.

"Last year, it was a lot easier to get everybody vaccinated," Reyne said.

This year, it's taking longer to reach a goal of having 70 percent of employees vaccinated.

"We'll end up with about the same amount. There is not the urgency of last year," Reyne said.

The behavior predicted by the Consumer Reports poll is disconcerting, said Dr. Hilary Babcock, an infectious disease specialist at Washington University School of Medicine.

"I think there was a lot of publicity last year that was not really based in fact or in science," Babcock said.

That publicity gave the impression that the H1N1 vaccine wasn't safe, Babcock said. In fact, it was quite safe, she said.

"The best way to protect everyone is for all of us to be vaccinated," Babcock said.

While others have reported the number of people getting flu shots is down, it apparently is the same as always at the Madison County Health Department in Wood River.

"We are on target with the number of flu shots as we were in previous years," said Amy J. Yeagner, health promotions manager for the agency.

And at the St. Louis University School of Medicine, Dr. Tyler Wadsworth reports the number of immunizations among students and faculty is down from last year, at the height of concern over H1N1, but up from other years.

"We're certainly doing plenty of flu shots around here," Wadsworth said.

Officially, the government's agency charged with tracking the number of flu shots given won't say whether the number of shots this year is the same as last year.

"It's impossible to track how many shots have been administered," said Jeff Dimond, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After the season, the government will do a survey of how many shots have been given, Dimond said.

Meanwhile, the person in charge of giving flu shots in the Granite City School District said the district hasn't received the kind of warnings it received last year.

"That's a personal choice. Some people feel comfortable getting the immunizations. Some don't," said Secondary Education Director Ron Stern, who oversees the nursing program.

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