Iowa top-ranked in flu vaccination rates for elderly, report shows

But report shows flu remains widespread in state

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Iowa ranked first in the percentage of adults aged 65 and older vaccinated against the flu last year, according to a new report that rates states' preparedness.

In the report released Tuesday, Jan. 15, the Trust for America's Health noted that 75.9 percent of seniors were vaccinated in Iowa, more than any other state and well above Alaska's rate of 49.5 percent, which ranked last.

Data was from the 2011-2012 flu season, but Iowa often reports high vaccination levels.

"The flu is an annual threat. Some years, like this one, the threat is more severe than others," Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the non-profit organization said in a written statement. "The problem is we let our guard down during mild seasons and then we aren't ready when a harder season hits."

The group noted that the historically low demand for seasonal flu vaccinations, stemming from the past two mild  seasons, has contributed to limiting the supply of vaccine manufactured each year.

Levi pointed to the need to make annual flu vaccinations and the manufacture of sufficient supplies a higher priority every year.

Iowa's latest influenza report showed flu remains widespread.

The state does not track the total number of flu cases, as the majority go unreported, but for the week ending Jan. 5, the number of influenza-associated hospitalizations reported from sentinel hospitals was 141 - 480 for the season so far - which is three times higher than typical flu seasons.

Two influenza outbreaks were reported from long term care facilities.

Things could be worse.

National data shows even higher flu activity in many states, including neighboring Illinois, Missouri and Minnesota.

The Trust for America's Health report shows a potential reason behind those levels, if the past flu season's vaccination levels are any indication.

Iowa also ranked high - No. 5 - for all residents vaccinated against the flu, with 47.9 percent of children aged 6 months and older through adulthood receiving vaccinations last flu season.

Minnesota was not far behind at ninth, with 47.2 percent, but Missouri lagged at No. 32 and Illinois ranked 45th of states in flu vaccination rates.

Dr. Loreen Herwaldt, epidemiologist at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, said flu vaccine won't prevent all cases of influenza, but usually lessens the severity of the illness and prevents more serious complications and hospitalizations.

Flu symptoms include respiratory difficulties, such as coughing and sneezing, fever and body aches.

"No vaccines are perfect," Herwaldt said, citing a 60 to 80 percent effectiveness in preventing the flu. "This year may be at the lower end of that. It's still the best preventative measure we have."

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