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UM SOM Vaccine Expert Warns of Risks of Influenza to Older Populations

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Kathleen Neuzil, MD, MPH, FIDSA
 Kathleen Neuzil, MD, MPH, FIDSA

CVD Director Kathleen Neuzil Says People 65 and Older Risk Severe Complications from Influenza

“Protect yourself and others by getting the flu shot” was the message from Kathleen Neuzil, MD, MPH, FIDSA, Director of the Center for Vaccine Development (CVD) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM). Dr. Neuzil was among the speakers at a press conference hosted by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Thomas E Price, MD, also spoke at the press conference and urged people to get their flu shot. The panel members all received their flu shots following the press conference.

Dr. Neuzil cautioned that individuals 65 and older are at the highest risk of severe complications and even death. “As you age, your frailty increases and you are more likely to have severe consequences of influenza,” Dr. Neuzil said, noting that roughly 85% of flu-related deaths in the U.S. fall in this age group. Neuzil also explained that there are vaccines with stronger doses designed to accommodate aging immune systems. In addition to protecting our elderly population, the flu shot is an effective tool in stopping the spread of influenza to other vulnerable populations such as the very young or those with underlying heart conditions.

Officials at the press conference, including Dr. Price, all agreed that flu seasons are difficult to predict and can range from mild to severe. Flu seasons are “predictably unpredictable,” Dr. Neuzil said, noting that it takes roughly two weeks after vaccination for the flu shot to begin working, so it’s best to get the flu shot as soon as possible.

According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza vaccination coverage for all ages across the U.S. was 46.8 percent during last year’s flu season. That means more than half of the U.S. population was unprotected from influenza. While coverage in older adults is better at 65.3% , it’s not good enough, according to Dr. Neuzil.

“It is critical to maintain the highest level of vaccination coverage for older adults because they are disproportionately affected by flu. Vaccination not only reduces the chance that older adults will get the flu, it can also help keep them out of the hospital by reducing the severity of the infection and related complications if they do get the flu,” said Dr. Neuzil.

About the University of Maryland School of Medicine

Commemorating its 210th Anniversary, the University of Maryland School of Medicine was chartered in 1807 as the first public medical school in the United States. It continues today as one of the fastest growing, top-tier biomedical research enterprises in the world -- with 43 academic departments, centers, institutes, and programs; and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians, scientists, and allied health professionals, including members of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, and a distinguished recipient of the Albert E. Lasker Award in Medical Research. With an operating budget of more than $1 billion, the School of Medicine works closely in partnership with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide research-intensive, academic and clinically-based care for more than 1.2 million patients each year. The School has over 2,500 students, residents, and fellows, and nearly $450 million in extramural funding, with more than half of its academic departments ranked in the top 20 among all public medical schools in the nation in research funding. As one of the seven professional schools that make up the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine has a total workforce of nearly 7,000 individuals. The combined School and Medical System (“University of Maryland Medicine”) has a total budget of $5 billion and an economic impact of nearly $15 billion on the state and local community. The School of Medicine faculty, which ranks as the 8th-highest public medical school in research productivity, is an innovator in translational medicine with 600 active patents and 24 start-up companies. The School works locally, nationally, and globally, with research and treatment facilities in 36 countries around the world. Visit medschool.umaryland.edu/.

About the Center for Vaccine Development

Since its inception in 1974, the CVD has worked to eliminate vaccine-preventable diseases. The CVD has created and tested vaccines against cholera, typhoid fever, paratyphoid fever, non-typhoidal salmonella disease, shigellosis (bacillary dysentery), Escherichia coli diarrhea, nosocomial pathogens, tularemia, influenza, and other infectious diseases. Learn more about the CVD.

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