The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released its latest data pertaining to seasonal flu vaccinations for the 2012-2013 influenza season, which shows that flu vaccine rates are rising among all age groups, most notably children.

U.S. health officials spoke on the rising trend at a news conference held by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), noting that, while it was heartening to see vaccination rates on the rise, the numbers still fall short of public health goals. As influenza season approaches, officials warn the American public more than ever of the need to get vaccinated.

Rising Rates

Children ages 6 months to 17 years saw the greatest jump in coverage from last year. At 56 percent of children receiving the vaccine, this year’s rate is up 5.1 percentage points from the 2011-2012 season. Adults 18 and older saw more modest gains, up 2.7 points to 41.5 percent. In total, 45 percent of the American population received the flu vaccine. The CDC’s data was compiled in this week’s issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and published online.

More success was further seen on the fringes. Children between 6 months and 4 years old were vaccinated 70 percent of the time, generally from their pediatricians as part of their normal health care routine. At the other end of the spectrum, adults over 65 were vaccinated nearly two-thirds of the time, at 66 percent. And despite seeing the smallest increases, most pleasing to health officials was the middle age bracket: 18-49 year olds, 31 percent of whom received the vaccine. That marked a 2.5 percentage point increase from last season.

Still, the rates are alarmingly low for many health care professionals.

“Despite substantial progress,” said Dr. Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “we can do even more to make our country healthier through prevention. Flu vaccination should represent a simple investment we make year in and year out to maximize the gift of health.”

Koh and other panel members received their vaccinations at the conference, in an effort to “lead by example” — one of the core mantras expressed by the CDC and NFID as a way to motivate the general public. A record-high 72 percent of health care personnel received the influenza vaccine last year, the CDC reported. Physicians showed the highest rate at 92.8 percent.

“Patients also look to you. Data show that a personal recommendation makes a big difference to patients,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director for the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Pregnant women are five times more likely to receive a flu vaccination if their doctor recommends it. Schuchat reminded physicians that they should be vaccinating their patients as soon as the vaccine becomes available in their area. Roughly 135 million influenza vaccine doses will be available this year in doctors’ offices, public health clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, retail stores, workplaces, and other areas, according an NFID press release.

Options And Availability

People are encouraged to receive a seasonal flu vaccine once a year, a standard that the U.S. set in 2010 for everyone 6 months of age and older. There are a number of variations offered to patients aside from injection of the traditional vaccine.

High-risk groups, such as the elderly, can receive a high-dose vaccination and one that is made in cell-culture — a technique long used in other vaccines that ramps up production time in case of a pandemic, but one that is new for influenza. Adults between 18 and 64 can also receive the vaccine with a much shorter needle; adults between 18 and 49 can receive an egg-free version; and people from 2 years to 49 years old can receive a non-injected, nasal spray option. Some patients will also be able to receive protection against four strains of influenza, as opposed to the longstanding three.

“We have more types of vaccine available than ever before, and there are one or more options that are right for everyone,” said panel member Dr. William Schaffner, immediate past-president of NFID. The CDC plans for all vaccines to eventually include four strains, though Schaffner said reaching that goal won’t likely happen for several years.

In the meantime, he emphasized that so many vaccination options mean that “no one should skip vaccination if his or her first choice is not available.”