WASHINGTON (AP) _ Fewer than half of the Americans who most need a flu shot don't get one, federal health officials warned Thursday as they urged a special focus on babies, toddlers and the elderly when vaccinations start next month.
A record 100 million doses of flu vaccine will be available this year, the majority of it shipped to doctors' offices by the end of October, said Dr. Keiji Fukuda of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That assurance comes several months after one major supplier, Chiron Corp., delayed its shipments after a small amount of vaccine failed sterility testing, suggesting contamination. That was ``a precautionary move,'' and close monitoring so far suggests the rest of Chiron's supply is fine, Fukuda said.
The main challenge now, he said, is persuading Americans to get their shots _ especially those at highest risk of complications from influenza. Every year, 36,000 Americans die of the flu and another 200,000 are hospitalized.
Last year, flu season started early and generated concern that children in particular seemed to be falling ill. The majority of the 152 children who died weren't vaccinated. While CDC has no way to know if that's more than usual, even healthy children under age 2 are at particular risk of influenza complications _ and thus pediatricians and federal health officials are urging increased attention to getting them vaccinated this year.
Flu vaccine is recommended for:
_All babies and toddlers 6 months to 23 months of age. In 2002, the first year that CDC began encouraging shots for these youngsters, just 4.4 percent were fully vaccinated.
_Anyone 6 months or older with chronic health problems, such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease, that leave them more vulnerable to influenza. Yet only about 30 percent of asthmatic children get flu vaccine.
_Pregnant women. Vaccinating the mother also offers some protection to babies born during flu season, specialists note.
_Everyone 50 and older. Those older than 65 are especially vulnerable to death from flu, yet only about 60 percent of the elderly get an annual vaccination.
_Anyone who lives with or cares for someone at high risk of flu complications, particularly newborns and the elderly.