Preventing Influenza in Connecticut

The 2017-2018 influenza season was one of the worst in recent history, with a record number of pediatric hospitalizations and deaths and more than 50,000 confirmed cases nationwide. Influenza is a very contagious disease that spreads through water droplets in the air. The best way to prevent influenza is to receive an annual vaccination.

In Connecticut alone, 12,780 people tested positive for influenza, 3,550 people were hospitalized, and 165 people died. The number of influenza cases spiked rapidly, and hospital emergency departments were crowded by January – early for a normal influenza season. To ensure that sick people were able to receive prompt treatment, the state health department used a PHEP-funded web system to monitor open hospital beds in the state, identify medical surge conditions, and work with colleagues and hospital preparedness staff to identify alternate care locations.

To protect residents and prevent further cases, preparedness staff coordinated a response with their coworkers through the health department, including infectious disease, immunizations, and hospital licensing staff. It worked closely with its PHEP-funded health departments to deliver vaccines and set up point of dispensing locations across the state where people could receive free influenza vaccinations on weekends. The PHEP-funded communications staff developed risk messaging to inform people that vaccinations are safe, effective, and the best way to prevent severe illness and hospitalization. They also promoted the availability of the clinics through social media and local media outlets.

Over the course of three weekends, more than 3,000 people were vaccinated through the state and local health departments’ initiative. Many of these people reported that they had not been vaccinated for influenza previously. They credited the convenience of a free weekend clinic and the media campaigns for convincing them to take action.

While the severity of influenza seasons is notoriously hard to predict, the state health department was able to respond rapidly. State health and local health department staff, supported by PHEP funds, were able to use existing public health preparedness and response systems to share information in a timely manner, coordinate the statewide response, deliver clear risk communication messages to the general public, and deliver and administer influenza vaccines through local health departments to lessen the impact of this severe influenza season and save lives.

Closeup on mineral water bottles in raw and lines

Over the course of three weekends, more than 3,000 people were vaccinated for influenza.

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The Incident

During the 2017-2018 influenza season, 3,550 people were hospitalized and 165 people died in Connecticut.

The Response

PHEP funds were used to coordinate a statewide response to set up vaccination clinics and develop and disseminate communication materials.

The Outcomes

Over the course of three weekends, more than 3,000 people were vaccinated. Many people reported that they had never been vaccinated for influenza before, and they credited the free vaccine service and public messaging for motivating them.