ATLANTA (AP) _ An advisory panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Friday that people 50 and older, instead of just those 65 and older, receive annual flu shots.

The panel said it was recommending the age change because 24 percent to 32 percent of people ages 50-65 have at least one chronic health condition that places them at high risk of hospitalization and death if they get the flu.

But only about 40 percent of people 50-64 with chronic conditions got flu vaccinations in 1997, and fewer than one-third in that age range without such health problems were vaccinated that year, according to the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

About 20,000 Americans die from the flu each year.

The committee's recommendations are usually adopted by the CDC, and most doctors generally follow CDC guidelines.

The committee also said that large-scale vaccination programs, such as those held at corporations and community centers, should be held in mid-October or later to reduce the chance that vaccine will not be available.

Manufacturers may not have an abundant supply available until later in the fall, the panel said.

The government says flu vaccination is the most effective method of preventing the disease.

The panel noted some good news in its report _ among those 65 and older, vaccination levels increased from 33 percent in 1989 to 63 percent in 1998.