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New York City Seal Press Release

New York City Department of Health
and Mental Hygiene

Office of Communications
CONTACT: Sandra Mullin/Greg Butler
Business Hours (212) 788-5260
After Business Hours (212) 764-7667; (877) 640-1347
Monday, December 23, 2002


NYC Community Health Survey Shows that More Than One-Third of Seniors are not Protected by Flu Vaccinations

New York City Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, announced today that only 63% of New Yorkers ages 65 and older receive annual vaccinations against the flu, a rate considerably below the national target rate of 90%. These low rates left more than 300,000 New York City seniors unnecessarily vulnerable to illness, hospitalization, and death from the flu last year. Data were collected from the NYC Community Health Survey, and presented in a new report mailed community groups and medical providers throughout the city, and is available online at

Dr. Frieden said, "This information further emphasizes the core public health challenges that confront New York City. Influenza and pneumonia are leading causes of death and illness in New York City, particularly among older New Yorkers. This year, thousands of people will become ill unnecessarily, and many will be hospitalized or die from a disease that is easily preventable."

Other findings from the survey include:

  • Only 52% of African-American New Yorkers aged 65 years and older received a flu shot in the past year, compared to 64% of Hispanics, and 67% of whites.

  • Fewer than half of high-risk individuals are getting flu shots. People with chronic diseases, such as diabetes and asthma, should get a flu shot each year, regardless of their age. Last year, however, only 40% of New Yorkers with diabetes and 35% of those with asthma were vaccinated against influenza.

  • Fewer than one in three New Yorkers between the ages of 50 and 64 were vaccinated last year. This low vaccination rate is probably a result of vaccine shortages in the past two years, and the fact that only recently has this age group been advised to get a flu shot. There are ample supplies of flu vaccine this year.

  • Even though the pneumococcal vaccine is recommended for everyone age 65 and older, only 50% of older New Yorkers reported receiving vaccination. Only 40% of older African-American New Yorkers reported receiving the pneumococcal vaccine.

  • While increasing access to health care can improve vaccination rates, it is no guarantee that a person will be vaccinated. 81% of unvaccinated older New Yorkers have both health insurance and a physician.

The data were derived from the NYC Community Health Survey, a telephone survey that collects critical, neighborhood-specific information on health in New York City. The 2002 survey interviewed nearly 10,000 New Yorkers in 33 communities across the City. Survey data are being presented in a series of reports entitled NYC Vital Signs, a new Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) publication. The first report in this series, "Immunization to Prevent Influenza and Pneumonia" has been mailed to community groups and medical providers throughout the city, and is available online.

Dr. Frieden continued, "Even though we are currently in flu season, it is not too late to get a flu shot. Flu season does not usually peak until late January. There is plenty of flu vaccine readily available in the City, and every New Yorker over the age of 50 and also every person who is in a high-risk category should make an effort to get vaccinated. DOHMH offers free immunization to New Yorkers at walk-in clinics throughout City."

Individuals at greatest risk for developing severe complications from the flu include:

  • Persons ages six months and older with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, pulmonary disorders including asthma, diabetes, kidney disease, and compromised immune systems.

  • Residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities.

  • Pregnant women.

  • Persons age six months to eighteen years on long-term aspirin therapy.

  • Close contacts of individuals in the above groups, including household members and persons who provide home care.

  • All health-care workers and employees of nursing homes and chronic care facilities.

Because persons at high-risk for the flu are also generally at risk for contracting pneumonia, DOHMH recommends that all people over the age of 65, and those with underlying medical conditions, get the one-time pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine if they have not already done so.

Increasing flu vaccination rates is a priority for DOHMH, particularly among communities of color. Representatives from DOHMH have met with community boards, elected officials, and other community leaders as part of an effort to promote the need for increased immunizations among African-Americans and other communities of color.

DOHMH also launched a new public education campaign this fall Don't Let the Flu Spoil Your Fun, which features the City's Flu Information line 1-866-FLU-LINE (1-866-358-5463). For more information, call 1-866-FLU-LINE, or visit