The percentage of Florida’s population properly inoculated against the flu is far lower than federal health officials recommend, according to a new report.
The Sunshine State has the 12th lowest vaccination rate in the country.
At a time when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is registering a steep increase in seasonal flu cases, D.C. nonprofit Trust for America’s Health finds only 43 percent of the state’s residents got vaccinated last year.
Trust for America’s Health CEO John Auerbach said no state meets the federal government’s recommendation of a 70 percent vaccination rate.
“So, we used the indicator of at least 50 percent of members of the public that should be getting the flu shot are getting it,” he said. “When we looked at that, there were 20 states that had more than 50 percent of their population, but there were, unfortunately, 30 states that had less than half of the population vaccinated and that included Florida.”
Auerbach said his group’s report, which tracked 10 indicators of emergency health preparedness, used data from the CDC to give each state a numbered score card of readiness. Overall, Florida got six out of 10 points.
CDC scientists say while it’s normal to see an uptick in infections around the middle of January, many states are already experiencing widespread sickness.
Auerbach said in order for Florida to stem flu infections during this time, the state health department should implement an aggressive education campaign to get people vaccinated in rural, urban and low income areas with less access to health care.
“We recommend that information also be promoted among health care providers and hospitals and primary care settings and that they be given lots of encouragement to promote that among their patients,” he said. “We also would encourage them to look at if there is unevenness among the public about who is getting vaccinated.”
Auerbach said recent changes in attitudes among the public are putting people at risk. He said the flu vaccine may seem unnecessary, but not getting vaccinated can have consequences that go far beyond a few bedridden days.
“In and of itself, the seasonal flu results in tens of thousands of the deaths in the country and the people most vulnerable from death from the flu are older adults or adults that have complex medical conditions,” he said. “They can be exposed to the flu by people who didn’t get the vaccine. So, it’s not only about vaccinating the people at high risk, but vaccinated others who may be in the company of those high risk people.”
The amount of people that die of flu-related causes every year varies wildly, with some years seeing as few as 12,000 in 2011 to as many as 56,000 deaths nationally the following year, according to the CDC.
WJCT has reached out to the Florida Department of Health for comment and is awaiting a reply. This story will be updated once a response is received.