PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island had the nation’s highest rate last year for influenza vaccination among adults 65 years and older, based on federal data, according to the R.I. Department of Health.
State health officials cited data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, showing that Rhode Island’s 2007 vaccination rate for that age group was 80 percent, up from 75 percent in 2006.
The national rate for flu immunization among those 65 and older last year was 72 percent, the CDC found.
Flu shots are considered especially important for the elderly, because they are likelier to develop serious complications. Between 50,000 and 200,000 Rhode Islanders get the flu every year, and about 120 die from influenza or related complications, health officials said.
After facing vaccine shortages in previous years, the Department of Health last year launched the Immunize for Life Program, a partnership between the state and health insurers in which the insurers finance the purchase of flu vaccine by the state.
The state’s buying power lowers costs for all and ensures that enough doses will be available, officials said. Under the old system, care providers tended to under-order because they were responsible for the cost of any unused vaccine, they said.
The new system enables care providers to buy the vaccine through a single in-state contractor; lets them restock as needed throughout the season, instead of having to buy a single supply upfront; and eliminates the need to bill insurers for the vaccine, further reducing costs, health officials said.
“This program is a unique partnership between the health insurers, health care providers and [the Department of] Health, and we are pleased with the success the program has shown in its first year,” said Dr. David R. Gifford, the state health director.
Nearly 50 percent of the state’s adult health care providers enrolled in the program in its first year – and of those, 6 percent said they had never before offered flu vaccines. More providers are enrolling this year, officials said.
“The Rhode Island Academy of Family Physicians worked hard over the past few years to develop a centralized process for ordering and distributing influenza vaccine, with the hopes that such a system would achieve just what it did – improved influenza vaccine rates,” said Dr. Sarah Fessler, president of the Rhode Island Academy of Family Physicians. “It is great to know that we were able to achieve this, with additional hard work and support from our friends at the Department of Health, and that we were able to do so even within the first year of the program.”
For news and information from the R.I. Department of Health, visit www.health.ri.gov.