Sun, Nov 07, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Government urges toddlers, seniors to get flu shots soon

LACKLUSTER RESPONSE Although the government is offering free flu shots to those under 2 or over 65, few have taken advantage and gotten in line for a jab

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

With the flu season looming ahead, the government said it has fallen far short of its target for vaccinating toddlers and seniors. It urged seniors and parents of toddlers to take advantage of the free immunizations, and said it will extend the program to other vulnerable sectors of the population beginning Wednesday.

The latest survey by the Center for Disease Control indicated that only 180,000 of the anticipated 380,000 children under the age of two were vaccinated against influenza. The unvaccinated 200,000 children, health officials warned, may not be able to receive the second shot by the end of this month. "Without re-vaccination, the children [under two] will not be fully shielded from the flu," said the Center's Deputy Director-General Lin Ting (林頂).

To be fully immunized, toddlers should receive two shots with one month in between. In Taiwan, the epidemic usually speeds up in late November and reaches its peak at Christmas. The Center originally planned to deliver the first flu shots to the children by October and the second shot by November. Yet fewer than half of the targeted children have turned up in local health bureaus and hospitals for a jab so far, the Center said.

Seniors over 65 also appeared lukewarm to the vaccination program. Only half of the estimated 2 million seniors got flu shots, according to the Center.

The Center rounded up 2.5 million doses this year. By the end of last month, however, over 1 million doses of vaccines remained untouched in the nation's health branches.

Health officials urged seniors to get flu shots as soon as possible. "Flu shots can help the senior ride out the winter," said Lin, "our study shows that older Taiwanese who get the flu shot are at lower risk of complications from other diseases."

To dole out the vaccines in storage, the Center decided to broaden the program's coverage. Starting Wednesday, toddlers under the age of three and elders over the age of sixty will also be eligible for free flu shots. Other risk groups, such as patients with severe diseases, health workers, pharmacists and airplane flight crews, will also included in the second wave of vaccination.

Health officials warned the public about the threat posed by influenza, saying that the flu can cause mild to serious and sometimes fatal disease. Even healthy adults may be virus carriers.

"Adults might be able to infect others from one day before getting symptoms and up to seven days after getting sick," Lin cautioned. "Which means that you can give someone the flu before you know you're sick as well as while you are sick."

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