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Immunization can save seniors' lives



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WASHINGTON, Sep 28, 2004 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- The flu can be deadly to Americans, especially to seniors, but immunizations can eliminate much of the danger, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said Tuesday.

Last year people in the United States learned the seriousness of the flu epidemic when 36,000 people died because of the disease, 32,000 of whom were seniors, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

"We cannot underestimate the danger the flu poses to the seniors of today and the boomers of tomorrow," Craig said in a Senate hearing titled, "Combating the Flu: Keeping Seniors Alive."

Dr. Stephen Ostroff, deputy director of the National Center for Infectious Disease, said that since 95 percent of flu deaths occur in seniors, all senior citizens should be vaccinated, as well as those who come in contact with them regularly.

Ostroff said that now is the time to protect ourselves and others from the flu.

"We need to roll up our sleeves and build a vaccine supply and get vaccinated," he said.

Some worry about the safety of the vaccinations themselves and wonder if we even need a vaccination. Cal State-Fullerton nutritionist Ada Schulz said.

"People want everything to come from some new pill or potion to cure everything, when what it comes down to is people are not eating right, exercising enough, drinking water and getting adequate rest."

People may decide not to immunize because they fear the flu shot will in fact give them the flu. Ostroff said that the "widespread belief that you can get the flu from the vaccine is an untrue obstacle." He and other speakers warned that the dangers threatened by the flu are far worse than any minor side effects from the flu shot, which may consist of a headache or low-grade fever for about a day after vaccination.

The FDA also supports the vaccination saying, "A lot of the illness and death caused by the flu can be prevented by a yearly flu vaccine."

Howard Pien, president and chief executive officer of Chiron Corporation, a company that makes flu vaccines, advocated that, "The best medicine is preventative medicine." He said that the system in place to test flu vaccines frequently is effective and that "There is no 'bad vaccine' -- there is not going to be a recall."

"The flu is a killer of elder Americans, and I wish the elders would view it like that," Craig said. "As people get older the risk is higher."

Pien encouraged all Americans about the benefits of immunization. "The increase in the willingness of the public to be immunized this season and after is critical," he said.

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

Copyright 2004 by United Press International.

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