For Immediate Release - November 12, 2013

Patrick Administration Announces Nation-Leading Progress in Flu Prevention

Massachusetts leads nation in flu vaccination rates and research; state health officials urge residents to get vaccinated against the flu

BOSTON — The Patrick Administration’s Department of Public Health (DPH) today announced that Massachusetts has the highest rate of vaccinations of all states, and has the first state lab in the nation to identify a new strain of influenza for this year’s national flu vaccine.

State health officials also announced that the 2013 – 2014 flu vaccines are now readily available at local healthcare providers or pharmacies.

“The Commonwealth’s medical innovation is second to none, and I thank our team at DPH for spearheading these public health advances,” said Governor Deval Patrick. “Our strong public health outreach and research efforts have led us to this progress, and I hope families and individuals will continue to get vaccinated this season to keep Massachusetts healthy.”

Leading the Nation in Influenza Vaccination Rates

According to CDC’s 2012-2013 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey and National Immunization Survey, Massachusetts ranks number one in vaccination rates of all states, with 58 percent of Massachusetts residents receiving influenza vaccines, compared to 45 percent nationally.

  • Massachusetts also led the nation in influenza vaccination of adults 18–64 years of age, with 49 percent vaccinated compared with 36 percent nationally; and among adults 18–49 years of age at 45 percent compared with 31 percent nationally.
  • The largest increase in vaccination rates over the previous season was for adolescents 13–17 years of age.Influenza vaccination of this age group increased 28 points from 39 percent in 2011-2012 to 67 percent in 2012-2013.
  • Children 6 months – 4 years of age were vaccinated at a rate of 83 percent, the highest of any age group in the state, compared to 70 percent nationally.
  • Disparities in influenza vaccination rates between whites and other race/ethnicities for everyone 6 months and older in Massachusetts have virtually disappeared. During the last flu season, 56 percent of whites, 56 percent of blacks, 65 percent of Hispanics and 60 percent of those identifying as other or multiple race received a flu vaccine.

“Vaccination rates are increasing thanks to our success in implementing health care reform, our partnerships with providers, and our progress in removing barriers to wellness and preventive services,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz.

Efforts to increase vaccine availability at chain pharmacies while building robust partnerships with local public health agencies, community health organizations, health care providers and public health nurses have contributed to nation-leading vaccination rates. DPH also developed an innovative Flu Vaccine for Everyone pdf format of    Flu Vaccine for Everyone  file size 3MB doc format of Flu Vaccine for Everyone file size 7MB outreach tool to target underserved populations.

Hinton State Lab Identifies New Strain of Influenza

Scientists at DPH’s Hinton State Laboratory Institute have identified a new strain of influenza which was one of the four strains included in the development of the 2013-14 influenza vaccine. The Hinton Lab is the first state laboratory in the nation to successfully identify a new strain for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which named the strain “influenza B/Massachusetts/2/2012-like virus” in recognition of the finding.

Each year, the CDC looks to state health laboratories to help identify what strains of influenza are circulating at the local level across the United States. This information is provided by the CDC to the World Health Organization (WHO), which convenes a group of expert scientists from around the globe to decide which strains to include in the flu vaccine manufactured for the upcoming flu season.

“The Hinton State Laboratory Institute is proud to have played an integral role in the formulation for the most effective vaccine possible against the flu,” said Hinton Lab Director Michael Pentella, Ph.D. “This recognition is a testament to the hard work of our scientists and researchers who focus on the health and well-being of all Massachusetts residents.”

Flu Vaccines Now Available

The flu vaccine, in both injectable and nasal spray format, is now readily available from health care providers, pharmacies and locally-based flu clinics across Massachusetts.

“With another flu season just around the corner, we urge residents to keep our nation-leading vaccination rates high and protect themselves, their families and communities from getting the flu,” said DPH Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett, R.N.

Nationwide, seasonal flu causes an average of 250,000 hospitalizations and up to 36,000-49,000 deaths in a severe influenza season. Typically, flu season in New England begins in November, increases in January, and peaks in February or early March. It takes about 10 days for a person who has been vaccinated to develop effective resistance against the flu — so residents are encouraged to make plans now to get their flu vaccine.

More information about the flu is available at www.mass.gov/flu.

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