WASHINGTON: The largest stockpile of flu vaccine ever produced in the US has jump-started a major outreach effort by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) to ensure that the 132 million doses won't go unused.
The NFID, a nonprofit, will spend around $4 million on communications efforts this flu season, with the CDC adding more than $1 million for its campaign. Both will use the boosted budgets to reach beyond the groups usually targeted for flu vaccine outreach.
Cooney/Waters is serving as lead agency to the NFID on the campaign, while the Academy of Educational Development (AED) will support the CDC for the third consecutive year.
While past efforts have focused on the elderly and others at highest risk of dying from influenza, an expansion of efforts could better contain flu outbreak, said Glen Nowak, director of media relations for the CDC. He noted, however, that the communications budgets are still relatively small when compared to what pharmaceutical companies spend on outreach.
The stakes are also particularly high this year, according to Len Novick, executive director of the NFID. As more and more producers have jumped into the market at the urging of government and public health groups, the concern is that distributors will pull out of the market if supply isn't met with equal demand.
At the center of this year's campaign is National Influenza Vaccination Week, taking place from November 27 through December 3. It marks the second consecutive year of the week-long event, which focuses on influenza, though Curtis Allen, senior press officer for the CDC, said hopes are higher this time around.
The CDC will work in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on the week. The NFID will also be involved with a number of events throughout the country.
"We know that, like politics, news is local. So it's important we reach into local communities," Allen said. "Local communities know the local media and they know their populations, so it's really important we partner with local organizations and local medical associations and health departments."
The CDC hopes the week will help it reach one of the main goals of the campaign: to extend the vaccination season in peoples' minds.
Previously, the season for vaccinations essentially ended with the Thanksgiving holiday, Novick explained. But with the addition of the week's events, both groups are hoping to better spread awareness efforts deeper into the year and help keep the issue relevant through the New Year.
Both organizations are also using funds to reach out to new groups who, in leaner years, were passed over in favor of more at-risk groups.
"There's a much more concerted effort being made to try to increase vaccination among healthcare workers and those who work in healthcare facilities," Nowak said.
"Traditionally that group has relatively low immunization rates, and there's a growing body of data that suggests that one of the concerns is that they can transfer influenza to patients, even if they aren't showing symptoms. So it's important for them to get flu shots."
The agency will enlist, among others, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics to assist its outreach campaign to those who work around medical facilities, Nowak added.
Jim Bender, deputy director, center for health communications at the AED, said enlisting third-party help will be a large part of the CDC's campaign.
"We're doing a lot of outreach to nonprofits, advocacy organizations, and providers," he said. "We're particularly interested in getting content onto their Web sites and out through their communications vehicles."
Novick said his organization received a huge boost when the AARP joined the effort. Novick said the AARP can strengthen the campaign with its ability to reach its massive membership.
Both groups launched their campaigns at a September 19 press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, when they announced the expected increase in vaccine supply.