Media Campaign Targets Older New Yorkers for Flu Shots

Health Commissioner: Influenza a Far Greater Risk for Most New Yorkers than Anthrax Attacks

Albany, November 7, 2001 – State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr. P.H. today announced a $250,000 statewide media campaign to alert senior citizens and other high–risk persons about the importance of getting vaccinated against flu and pneumococcal disease, which annually claim the lives of more than 20,000 Americans, including approximately 3,000 New Yorkers.

"Our goal is to dramatically reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths from complications of influenza by convincing high–risk individuals to get a flu shot and, if necessary, a dose of pneumococcal vaccine without delay," Dr. Novello said. "Every year thousands of older New Yorkers suffer serious and sometimes fatal effects from influenza and flu–related pneumonia that might have been prevented with appropriate immunization."

The Department's media campaign includes statewide radio advertising encouraging flu shots for individuals age 65 and older and those with underlying chronic illnesses or conditions that make them more vulnerable to complications of flu. Because flu vaccine production is delayed and a full supply of vaccine will not be delivered until December at the earliest, the State Health Department is recommending that these high–risk persons get their shots first. Household members of persons at high risk; health care workers engaged in direct patient care and those who provide home care to high–risk individuals also should get flu shots as soon as possible.

Later this month, when more doses of vaccine become available, the Department will conduct a radio campaign to encourage persons age 50 and older to get a flu shot. The flu campaign also includes a variety of print materials targeting "Snowbirds," older New Yorkers who head South for the winter and often neglect to get a flu shot before they go.

In the meantime, the State Health Department is providing flu vaccine from its own supplies to county health departments and health care providers who serve high–risk patients. The Department has distributed 80,000 doses of vaccine in 54 counties, thus far, and has an additional 90,000 doses on order. As these doses arrive they will be disbursed throughout the State, as needed.

The 2001–2002 flu vaccine contains two "A"strains–Moscow and New Caledonia–and a "B" strain, B–Sichuan. Because the flu virus changes from one flu season to the next, flu vaccine must be changed every year to be effective. Those who are at high risk for flu should make sure they are vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia, as well. A one–time dose of pneumococcal vaccine usually will confer lifetime immunity to individuals over 65.

Symptoms of influenza resemble those of a cold, but come on swiftly and are more pronounced. A person who has the flu usually has a fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, chills, a severe headache and muscle aches as well as a cough and sore throat.

Individuals who know that they have been exposed to someone with influenza, or who are experiencing symptoms of flu, should consult with their health care provider immediately to determine if antiviral drugs may be helpful. Treatment with antiviral medications can sometimes make the course of illness less severe, if treatment is started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Antibiotics are not effective against influenza and should not be prescribed for someone simply as a "precaution" against anthrax, unless there is reason to suspect an anthrax exposure.

Anyone who may be coming down with the flu should avoid contact with high–risk individuals. Specifically, these include:

  • Persons 65 years of age or older;
  • Residents or nursing home and residents of any other chronic care facilities;
  • Adults and children (aged six months or older) with chronic disease of the pulmonary or cardiovascular system, including asthma;
  • Adults and children (aged six months or older) who receive regular medical care or who have been hospitalized in the preceding year because of chronic diseases including immune system suppression, diabetes and kidney disease;
  • Children 6 months to 18 years of age who are on long term aspirin therapy; and
  • Healthy pregnant women who will be in their second and third trimester during influenza season and pregnant women with medical conditions that increase their risk of complications from flu, regardless of the stage of pregnancy.

A State Health Department supported Flu Information Hotline at 1–800–342–9871 can help callers locate the nearest flu clinic. Additional information can be obtained by visiting the State's influenza Web site at www.flu.state.ny.us.

11/7/01–113 OPA