This winter's US flu season has not been and will not be as devastating as the historic season that killed 80,000 Americans last year. This could encourage latecomers to want to rule out the idea of getting the flu shot. However, a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should convince you otherwise: It turns out that this year's vaccination is almost twice as effective as last year's flu prevention.
The report was published in the CDC's weekly report on morbidity and mortality. It provides a quick estimate of the effectiveness of the 2018-2019 influenza vaccine, based on data from thousands of real-life patients who have seen a doctor.
According to the report, the vaccine is globally 47% effective against all influenza strains circulating this year; for children aged 6 months to 17 years, the efficiency is 61%. It was judged to be only 8% effective in adults over 50 years of age, but the authors indicated that this estimate may be erroneous because of the small number of older patients in their sample.
These do not seem huge, but the flu virus is notoriously difficult to vaccinate because it can mutate rapidly. And on average, the current vaccine is about as effective (although low) as the vaccine against another year would be against similar strains. In addition, it is much more robust than last year's vaccine, which was only 25% effective against the main H3N2 strain, the most powerful, this season.
Nevertheless, the meager success of last year's vaccination shows why it is so important to get vaccinated, even in years when vaccination is less effective. According to research cited by the authors, the 2017-2018 vaccine prevented 7.1 million cases of influenza, 3.7 million physician visits, 109,000 hospitalizations and 8,000 deaths. And it could have been even better if more than 37% of adults and 58% of children had been vaccinated.
Until now, estimates of vaccination coverage are expected to be higher than last year, which is excellent. If you have not had the trouble to get vaccinated, it's not too late! The authors said that doctors should continue to offer the vaccine because the flu season is still ongoing and that other strains of influenza could circulate later in the season. And this year, you can even avoid a painful blow because the nasal spray version of the vaccine is again recommended for all ages.
Remember that it will take about two weeks for vaccine protection to be fully operational. So, if you end up having sniffles before that, do not blame the vaccine (it can not give you the flu, well may have side effects almost always mild). Just get vaccinated already.