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Published on September 28, 2015

CDC predicts better match for flu vaccine

CDC predicts better match for flu vaccine

It’s time for your flu shot, and newest vaccine should be a big improvement over last year’s version.

Last year’s vaccine was only 23 percent effective overall and just 13 percent effective for the dominant strain of the influenza virus, known as H3N2. Federal health officials have reformulated the vaccine to more closely match H3N2, as well as other strains.

More people were hospitalized from H3N2 last year than any other year on record because the virus mutated, said Tom Friedman, MD, director of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at a Sept. 17 press conference.

The CDC recommends getting the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available, if possible by October. The flu season runs from October through May, with peak incidences between December and February. Manufacturers are projecting 171 to 179 million doses of the vaccine available in the U.S. this year.

Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod already held their first flu shot clinic last week. The vaccines are 100 percent covered by insurance, so bring your card if you go. The state also provides some free vaccines for uninsured people.

“We work with our town health departments and go to every town to provide a community flu clinic,” says Mary Devlin, RN, public health and wellness manager at the VNA. “We also will provide it at work sites, churches and other community settings if people would like it. We also do flu vaccines at some of our schools.”

Residents of Massachusetts score fairly high in flu vaccine compliance. Last year the state ranked third in the nation (behind Rhode Island and South Dakota) with 54.9 percent of the population over the age of 6 months old getting the vaccine. That is slightly higher than the national average of 50 percent.

Devlin says people between 18 and 50 are least likely to get a vaccine, and that becomes a big problem for everyone else. Young healthy people tend to have a milder reaction to the flu than children, seniors or those with chronic health conditions. The danger is that unvaccinated people might spread the flu to the more vulnerable people—even if they’ve been vaccinated themselves.

The vaccine does not provide enough coverage to fully protect those with compromised immune systems.

“We need to get our own vaccines so we can protect those around us who aren’t getting the protection 100 percent,” Devlin says. “We really do have an obligation to protect those who can’t protect themselves.”

Each year between 5 percent and 20 percent of the U.S. population become sick with the flu, according to the CDC. Of those people, about 200,000 will require hospitalization, and anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 will die from complications of influenza, depending on the year.

Since the vaccine is only effective 50 percent to 60 percent of the time in a good year and about half the population currently doesn’t get it, the flu will still be a factor this year, despite the better match up. Devlin recommends calling your doctor immediately if you develop flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, cough, sore throat, muscle aches and fatigue. The symptoms come on quickly and can be severe.

“Your doctor can probably prescribe you something that will definitely shorten the duration and lesson your symptoms,” she says. “Tamiflu is a good effective drug, but it should not be your go-to solution. Really your go-to should be to get the vaccine.”

To find a flu vaccine in your area, visit the online vaccine finder and type in your zip code. Want to learn more? Read the CDC’s Influenza E-brief.