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Swine flu vaccination rates vary widely around the country

April 1, 2010 | 12:04 pm

Pig Vaccination rates for the pandemic H1N1 influenza virus have varied widely around the country, with New England having the highest vaccination rates and the South having the lowest, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Rhode Island had the highest overall rate of vaccination for the swine flu, with about 39% of its population immunized, while Mississippi had the lowest rate, with only 13% receiving the shot. Georgia had the lowest rate of vaccination among children, with only 21% of them receiving the shots. Perhaps coincidentally, Georgia is now the state with the highest level of ongoing swine flu activity.  "It's possible that [the outbreak there] is related to vaccine coverage," Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said Thursday in a telephone news conference. "It's possible there are more people susceptible to the virus there. It's also possible that they are a herald of what could happen in other states."  Georgia and other Southern states were the ones first affected in last fall's second wave of swine flu.

California was in the middle of the pack, with 31.2% of children under age 18 vaccinated, 27.7% of young adults in the targeted high-risk groups and 13.9% of those aged 25 to 64 who were not in the targeted groups.

The survey results, which covered the period through the middle of February, indicate that 72 million to 81 million Americans were vaccinated against swine flu and 81 million to 91 million doses were administered. Children under the age of 10 require two doses. Overall, about one in four people were vaccinated, but there was a wide variation in percentages, with three times as many people vaccinated in the most successful states as in the least successful. "We had a great success with children and a greater success with the target population than the population in general," Schuchat said. "Overall, the country did an extraordinary job in responding."

The vaccination effort among healthcare workers was less successful, however. About 62% of them received seasonal flu vaccinations -- the highest rate in recent years -- but only 37% of them got a swine flu shot. The highest vaccination rates were observed among those who worked in intensive care units, in burn units and with obstetric patients. If employers recommended or required vaccination, employees were much more likely to get them. "The healthcare environment is one where infections can spread," Schuchat said, and officials are happy that seasonal flu vaccination rates are rising, but disappointed that the same is not true for swine flu.

So far, the government has shipped 126 million doses of swine flu vaccine and another 36.5 million finished doses are in storage. The government also has bulk antigen in storage, but that has a much longer shelf life and could potentially be used in next season's seasonal flu vaccine. Schuchat conceded that many doses of the vaccine probably will have to be discarded, but "we made a conscious decision to have more than enough doses of vaccine rather than less than enough."

-- Thomas H. Maugh II