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The Seasonal Flu Press Conference

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National Press Club, Washington, D.C. - September 10, 2009

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thanks so much Dr. Schaffner.  I’m very pleased to be here with Dr. Thomas Frieden and Dr. Ann Schuchat.

Every year, we gear up for the seasonal flu, but this year, we face two flu-related threats—the seasonal flu viruses and the new H1N1 virus.  While it’s hard to make predictions about how a flu season plays out, we may see more illness from flu than we’ve seen in recent years .

But even though the new H1N1 virus is on everyone’s mind, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that we need to take seasonal flu just as seriously.  Every year, we see approximately 200,000 hospitalizations and as many as 36,000 deaths related to seasonal flu.

When it comes to any strain of flu, the most important thing you can do for yourself and everyone around you—get vaccinated.  That’s the best possible protection against flu viruses.

We expect to have about 115 million doses of seasonal flu vaccine.  We should have ample supplies of seasonal vaccine in the coming weeks.

We want most people to get their seasonal flu vaccination as soon as possible.  In fact, I’m getting my seasonal flu shot tomorrow.  I’m telling my family and friends—get it as soon as you can.

There are some people that we really want to get an annual flu vaccination – these are people who have a health condition that increases their risk for very serious illness from flu.   If you’re pregnant, if you have an underlying health condition like heart disease, diabetes or asthma it’s very important you get a seasonal flu vaccination and you should be at or near the front of the line.   If you’re a health care worker or an emergency responder, or if you care for a baby who is less than six months old, you should also make getting a seasonal flu vaccination a high priority you don’t want to spread the flu to someone who is vulnerable to serious illness.

Here’s where seasonal flu viruses and the new H1N1 virus are a little different—at least so far.  With the 2009 H1N1 virus, we’ve seen many more cases of illness in children and young adults.

With seasonal flu viruses, we know that older people are more susceptible to serious illness.  That’s why we want people with Medicare to be sure to get a flu vaccination.  If you have Medicare coverage for doctors’ visits—and most people do—then the vaccination is free.

The good news is, two-thirds of people over 65 get vaccinated—by far the highest vaccination rate—so older people are doing fairly well when it comes to preventing seasonal flu.  However, we want—and can do—better.  If you’re healthy and active, getting a flu vaccination can help you stay healthy and active.

The same is true for those of us between 50 and 65 years old.  Currently, about 38 percent of 50 to 65 year olds get their flu vaccinations.

We need to do a better job of encouraging health care workers to get vaccinated.  It’s surprising, but almost 60 percent of them weren’t immunized last year.  

And everyone should remember that getting vaccinated can help protect their loved ones from flu.

Because the 2009 H1N1 virus appeared so late in last year’s season, the vaccine for this new strain is not likely to be available until mid-October.  But you can get your seasonal flu vaccine now.  

Meanwhile, it’s still helpful to cover your coughs and sneezes, wash your hands often, and stay home if you’re sick—straightforward ways everyone can reduce the illness caused by flu.

We hope that all of you will let people know how essential it is to get the seasonal flu vaccination right now, and the 2009 H1N1 vaccine in October.   You can go to www.flu.gov for more information.

Thanks so much for your time.