Last year’s flu vaccine was mostly a bust, providing little benefit. Health officials say this year’s vaccine looks to be more effective, and urge people to roll up their sleeves.
Last year’s flu vaccine was mostly a bust, providing little benefit to Americans who got the shots. But local and federal health officials are urging people to roll up their sleeves, saying they expect this year’s dose to be more effective.
“We think it’s going to be a heck of a lot better than last season,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County. “I think the likelihood is that people will get a bigger bang for their buck with the flu vaccine.”
Updated analysis showed that last year’s seasonal flu vaccine was only 13 percent effective at protecting people against the top-circulating bug, said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), speaking Thursday at a Washington, D.C., news conference.
“This was a bad year for the flu,” said Frieden, who capped the event by getting a flu shot in front of reporters.
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Last year’s problems occurred because flu viruses mutate easily, and a new strain of H3N2 influenza emerged late in the season. It was too late to include it in the vaccine distributed in the Northern Hemisphere. That meant that only about a third of the circulating viruses last year were a match for the shots.
But this year’s shots were tailored to protect against that new H3N2 virus, and so far, it looks like a good match, Frieden said.
Manufacturers expect to produce between 171 million and 179 million doses for the upcoming season. So far, about 40 million doses have been distributed nationwide, officials said.
“We expect to be on target,” said Duchin. “This year, the Southern Hemisphere hasn’t shown us any surprises yet.”
That’s good news after a moderately severe flu season, which saw about 18,000 hospitalizations, including the highest-ever number among people aged 65 and older. In addition, deaths of at least 145 children nationwide were attributed to the illness.
In King County, there were 59 outbreaks of influenza-like illness at long-term care centers, greater than any previous year and more than double the average of 22 outbreaks, Duchin said.
In a good year, the flu vaccine is 50 to 60 percent effective at stopping illness, Frieden said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months and older receive flu shots every year.
This year’s flu vaccines include so-called trivalent doses that protect against two A strains of flu, H1N1 and H3N2, and one B strain. Quadrivalent vaccines protect against an additional B strain.
People aged 65 and older should also consider newer high-dose flu shots that contain about four times as much antigen as the regular vaccine and have been shown to boost protection in seniors. Older people and those with chronic or underlying illness should consider vaccinations to protect against pneumococcal disease, the health experts said.
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a Seattle pediatrician and blogger who spoke at the Washington, D.C., news conference, urged pregnant women to get the shots to prevent the chance of severe disease in themselves — and to protect their babies after birth. Children younger than 5 are also more vulnerable to serious illness from the flu.
“A flu vaccine in the fall is part of what we want for every family,” she said.
Information in this article, originally published Sept. 17, 2015, was corrected Sept. 18, 2015. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that vaccines mutate easily. It’s the viruses that mutate.