January 8, 2014 – The Health Department released a new report today about influenza and pneumonia, which is the third leading cause of death in New York City, responsible for as many as 3,000 deaths each year. New York City vaccination levels are rising but remain below the goal outlined by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Only 65% of New York City children aged 6 to 59 months received an influenza vaccination in the past year, an increase from 59% in the 2011-12 influenza season, but well below the national goal of 80%.
“More New Yorkers die from influenza and pneumonia than from any other infection,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. “The best way to prevent influenza is to get vaccinated. If you think it is too late, think again. We are just now heading into peak flu season.”
Data from hospital emergency departments show that influenza activity is increasing in New York City. In the United States, most influenza virus infections this year have been caused by the same H1N1 strain that has been circulating since 2009. New Yorkers who have not yet been vaccinated this season are advised to get an influenza vaccine now to prevent infection. All influenza vaccines protect against the 2009 H1N1 virus. Annual influenza vaccination is recommended for people aged 6 months and older, and is especially recommended for those at risk of developing influenza-related complications. Those at risk include children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions, and adults aged 65 and older.
Children are particularly vulnerable to complications from influenza. During the 2012-13 influenza season, 169 children in the United States died from influenza-related complications, including four in New York City. Though children are at high risk, influenza vaccination coverage for this age group remains below the national coverage goal of 80%. By the end of the 2012-13 flu season, only 46% of New York City children aged 5 to 8 received the influenza vaccine, and only 31% of children aged 9 to 18 received the vaccine.
Vaccinating children protects them and also helps prevent them from spreading influenza to others at risk of severe illness and complications. Because of this, the Board of Health unanimously approved in December 2013 a change to the New York City Health Code to increase vaccination coverage in young children. Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, children between 6 months and 5 years of age enrolled in city-licensed daycares and preschools are required to receive an influenza vaccination by December 31st each year. Only 65% of children in this age group received an influenza vaccine last season – leaving one-third of children between 6 months and 5 years of age unprotected.
Older New Yorkers and those with chronic health conditions are also at risk of developing influenza-related complications. 62% of New Yorkers aged 65 and older reported being vaccinated against influenza in 2012-13, which falls short of the national coverage goal of 90%. Vaccination rates among New Yorkers aged 50 to 64 were 43%. During last year’s influenza season, nearly half of New Yorkers with asthma and 59% of people with diabetes reported receiving a vaccination.
It is also important for pregnant women to get vaccinated against influenza. Pregnant women face a higher risk of premature labor if infected with influenza. Less than half of pregnant women in New York City received a vaccination between August 2010 and August 2011. Vaccinating a mother while she is pregnant protects her from influenza-related complications and also protects her newborn infant from influenza until the infant is old enough to get vaccinated at 6 months of age.
To increase vaccination rates and reduce the spread of the virus in New York City during the 2013-14 influenza season, the Health Department launched a new texting service to help New Yorkers get vaccinated. Users can text “flu” to 877877 to find a nearby vaccine location.
People can check with their health care providers to see if they have influenza vaccine available. Influenza vaccinations are also available at Health Department immunization clinics throughout the city. Additionally, free or low cost vaccinations are available at Health and Hospitals Corporation facilities and at community health centers. Adults can receive an influenza vaccine at one of the hundreds of pharmacies offering this service.
To read the report in full, visit nyc.gov (PDF).
For more information about influenza or to find a vaccination site, text “flu” to 877877, call 311 or visit nyc.gov and search for “flu.”