Despite calls from federal, state and local health officials — along with President Barack Obama and Gov. Charlie Crist — fewer than 20 percent of Floridians have been vaccinated against the H1N1 swine flu virus, according to new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vaccination rates varied widely, with the highest in northeastern states such as Rhode Island (38.8 percent) and Massachusetts (37.0), and the lowest in southeastern states including Mississippi (12.9) and Georgia (16.6).
Florida's rate was 19.5 percent as of January, below the U.S. median rate of 23.9 percent. More of Florida's children were vaccinated (32.3 percent) than adults (16.1).
Federal health officials said low rates might explain a recent increase in H1N1 cases in the Southeast, particularly in Georgia, which has seen about 40 H1N1-related hospitalizations a week since February.
Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina are now reporting regional H1N1 activity, while most states — including Florida — have only sporadic cases.
But officials say the Georgia situation is a reminder that the H1N1 virus hasn't gone away, and they renewed their call for vaccinations. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin said there is now enough vaccine available for anyone who wants it.
Health officials also released rates for health care workers, one of the target groups encouraged to receive the vaccine. From August to January, 62 percent of health care workers nationally received the seasonal flu vaccine, while 37 percent received the H1N1 vaccine.
The 62 percent rate was the highest in years for the seasonal flu vaccine, which the CDC attributed to stepped-up efforts by providers. At Tampa General Hospital, for example, calls for employees to join the "VacciNation" resulted in rates of 65 percent for seasonal flu and 53 percent for H1N1.
"It was quite an effort," said JoAnn Shea, director of employee health and wellness at Tampa General, which has about 6,100 employees.
Richard Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8330.