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More seniors should be getting flu vaccines

Less than two-thirds of the nation's senior citizens are getting vaccinated against flu and pneumonia _ well short of the government's goal of 90 percent by 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week.

In a 2001 survey of nearly 40,000 elderly people by the CDC, only about 65 percent said they had received a flu shot in the preceding year, and only 60 percent had ever received a shot against the most common form of bacterial pneumonia.

The figures show the government is making progress on the pneumococcal shots _ the 2001 figure is up nearly 6 percentage points from 1999. But apparently because of delays in delivery of last year's flu vaccine, the flu vaccination rate for senior citizens dropped from 67 percent in 1999.

Flu shots are recommended annually, because the strains of the virus change from year to year. Senior citizens typically need to be given a pneumococcal booster only once after age 65.

Flu kills 18,000 senior citizens a year in the United States. Pneumococcal disease, which includes pneumonia and bacterial meningitis, is responsible for 3,400 deaths among the elderly.

The CDC recommended doctors do more to offer shots to their patients. Plenty of flu shots _ 93-million doses _ will be available this flu season, the agency said.