(NaturalNews) This year marks the first time that, under U.S. law, Medicare and private insurers will be required to cover the full cost of seasonal influenza vaccination, with no co-pays or deductibles allowed. Uninsured children will also receive free flu shots.
Following last year's scare over H1N1 swine flu, which resulted in delays and shortages of flu vaccines, manufacturers have produced 165 million doses of the vaccine for use in the United States, which has a population just under 300 million. The government now recommends flu vaccination for all residents over the age of six months.
Thirty million doses are already available on retailers' shelves. A new high-dose vaccine is also being offered for the first time to people over the age of 65, though such doses have never been used before.
This year's seasonal flu vaccine is designed to protect against H1N1 and two other flu strains believed to be circulating this winter. An estimated 60 percent of the U.S. population is still believed to be vulnerable to H1N1 infection.
"We could still have a bad year," says Trish Perl of Johns Hopkins University Hospital.
Although public health officials have been promoting flu vaccines for years, evidence suggests that the vaccines do not actually reduce death rates in the elderly, typically considered the most vulnerable population.
Many flu shots in the United States include the common vaccine ingredient thimerosal, a mercury derivative.
"We absolutely shouldn't be exposing all of these kids to this known developmental neurotoxin, especially when most of them don't even need a flu shot in the first place," writes Deirdre Imus in the book Growing Up Green.
"We also need to be calling more public attention to the health consequences of thimerosal," Imus writes. "Over the last few years, scientists have begun to focus on the possible correlation between mercury exposure in early childhood and the rise of autism spectrum disorders."