ATLANTA — A government panel is now recommending that virtually all Americans get a flu shot each year, starting this fall.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices had gradually been expanding its recommendation for flu shots — 85 percent of Americans were already included.
On Wednesday, the panel voted to recommend a seasonal flu vaccination for everyone except babies younger than 6 months and those with egg allergies or other unusual conditions.
The panel's recommendation now goes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC usually follows the panel's advice and spreads the message to doctors and hospitals across the country.
"Now no one should say, 'Should I or shouldn't I?' " said Dr. Anthony Fiore, a CDC flu specialist.
CDC vaccination recommendations tend to be influential with the doctors who give the shots and the health insurers who pay for them.
Flu shots are already recommended for 85 percent of the U.S. public, including pregnant women, children older than 6 months, adults 50 and older, people with certain chronic health conditions, health care workers and those who take care of people in a recommended group. The only people who weren't specifically included were healthy people ages 19 to 49 who don't have close contact with anyone at risk of flu and its complications.
But only about 33 percent of Americans actually get a flu shot, and usually millions and millions of doses get thrown away annually.
The swine flu pandemic that hit last year caused a new momentum for flu vaccinations. Virtually all the 114 million doses of seasonal flu vaccine doses made were distributed, and more young adults and children got the swine flu vaccine than usually come out for seasonal flu.
The panel voted 11 to 0 — with one abstention — for the recommendation, prompting a short round of applause in the CDC auditorium where the meeting was held. Some public health experts and physicians had been pushing for a universal flu vaccination recommendation for more than 10 years.
Also on Wednesday, the panel gave its nod to a proposed formulation of next year's seasonal flu vaccine. The vaccine will be built to protect against three strains of flu scientists think will be circulating next fall and winter. Swine flu is to be one of the strains incorporated into the vaccine.