FLU VACCINE NOT WORKING WELL,
ONLY 23% EFFECTIVE
NEW YORK —
This year's flu
vaccine is doing a pretty crummy job.
It's only 23 percent effective, which is one of the worst performances in the
last decade, according to a government study released Thursday.The poor
showing is primarily because the vaccine doesn't include the bug that is making
most people sick, health officials say. In the last decade, fluvaccines at their best were 50 to 60
percent effective. "This
is an uncommon year," said Dr. Alicia Fry, a flu vaccine expert at the
Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who was involved in
the study. The
findings are not surprising, though.
In early December, CDC officials warned
the vaccine probably wouldn't work very well because it isn't well matched to a
strain that's been spreading widely.Each year,
the flu vaccine is reformulated, based on experts' best guess at which three or
four strains will be the biggest problem. Those decisions are usually made in
February, months before the flu season, to give companies that make flu shots
and nasal spray vaccine enough time to make enough doses. But this
year's formula didn't include the strain of H3N2 virus that ended up causing
about two-thirds of the illnesses this winter. And that strain tends to cause
more hospitalizations and deaths, particularly in the elderly, making this a
particularly bad winter to have a problem with the flu vaccine. Indeed, the
flu season is shaping up to a bad one. Health officials are comparing it to the
nasty flu season two winters ago, and this one may prove to be worse.
Hospitalization rates in people 65 and older are higher than they were at the
same point in the 2012-2013 season, according to CDC data.
from the preliminary study weren't large enough to show how the vaccine is
working in each age group, although flu vaccines traditionally don't work as
well in elderly people.
involved 2,321 people in five states — Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin
and Washington — who had respiratory illnesses from November to early January.
The researchers said vaccinated people had a 23 percent lower chance of winding
up at the doctor with the flu.
began regularly tracking the effectiveness of the flu vaccine during the
2004-2005 season, but the results for the first few years were from smaller
studies and are considered less reliable. Effectiveness has ranged from 47
percent to 60 percent in the last half-dozen years, when studies involved
larger numbers of patients.
in those last several years that "we really understand what's really going
on" with the flu vaccines, said Dr. Arnold Monto, a University of Michigan
flu expert and another author of the study.
officials say people should still get a flu shot this year. Recently, the flu
season in the U.S. has peaked in January or February, but people can continue
to get sick for months. And they could get infected by the flu strains that were
included in this year's version.
vaccine's disappointing performance affected the family of a woman who worked
on the flu study at the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin. Kelly Mathews, of
Wisconsin Rapids, said she makes sure her three sons get flu shots each year —
especially after they got very sick in 2009, when swine fluwas raging and vaccine was scarce.
7-year-old son, Corbyn Lemper, developed a lasting cough and was diagnosed with
the flu just before New Year's. Mathews said the flu shot might have at least
kept him from becoming really sick.
better to get it," she said.