This year’s flu crisis has been the worst we’ve seen for some years, and the official advice remains that vaccination is the best way to prevent new cases from occurring. However, a new report from the CDC has shown that the vaccine that’s been used this year has only been 36% effective against virus strains A and B. The H3N2 strain has caused the majority of cases this year at 69%, although influenza B and the H1N1 virus have also been in circulation, both in the US and across the world.
A separate report has shown that the vaccine has been much more effective against the less prominent strains: 67% against H1N1 and 42% against influenza B. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that “This year, the cell-based influenza vaccine appears to have somewhat better effectiveness in preventing influenza than the egg-based vaccine.”
The CDC report is particularly worrying, as research has shown that H3N2 viruses are “often linked to more severe illness”, and this year’s vaccines have shown to be just 25% effective against this strain. These figures are taken from the midseason data in the US. Even though these figures are considered very low for a flu vaccine, when compared to data from other developed nations, the effectiveness is fairly high in America. One report from Canada estimated the vaccine to be only 17% effective against the H3N2 strain and in Australia it’s even lower – at just 10%.
Despite these figures, the official advice still remains that vaccination is the best way for individuals to protect themselves from the virus – especially in high risk groups. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams recommended that individuals should still get immunised. He also urged that parents get their children vaccinated, as nearly 75% of the children who’ve died from flu this season had not had a flu jab. “The flu vaccination is safe,” he said. “It is still your best defense.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar noted “If a young child gets a flu shot, he or she is 59% less likely to get the virus and have to go to the doctor. Getting the flu shot is the same kind of sensible precaution as buckling your seat belt. If you got the flu shot but you end up catching the flu, it could be less severe and less likely to land you in the hospital.” CDC Director Dr. Anne Schuchat added that “The vaccine’s performance in children was better than we expected.”
Dr. Michelle Barron, medical director of infection prevention and control at UC Health University of Colorado Hospital commented that “We know in general that people that are younger and healthy can have better responses to vaccines than people who are older or very young. There is a vaccine specific for people who are older that gives you a higher dose. This is believed to work a little bit better in that age group.”