According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), this season’s flu vaccine is just 23% effective. Of all years when an effective vaccine is needed, it is the season for 2014 to 2015. This season, the flu has reached epidemic proportions, having already caused deaths of 15 children.
In the CDC’s new report, the 23% effective level applies to people of all ages. Obviously, this is bad news, especially for people more susceptible to risks to include children, the elderly, and individuals with compromised immune systems. With the flu vaccine being so ineffective, the CDC is advising people within high risk groups to look for additional prevention and treatment options.
The CDC is advising everyone, again primarily those considered high risk, to pay close attention to symptoms and seek medical care immediately. Doctors throughout the country are aware that people showing signs of influenza need to be treated quickly and every case should be taken seriously.
Currently, there are three different flu vaccinations available according to Dr. Joseph Bresee, branch chief of the CDC’s Influenza Division. He stated that regardless of an individual’s vaccination status and without waiting to get confirmation through testing of having the flu, antiviral medication is necessary.
The 23% effective rate of this season’s flu vaccine was the result of 2,321 children and adults with acute respiratory illness being carefully analyzed by the CDC. Within this group, 950 participants, which equates to 41%, had the flue while another 916 or 96% tested positive for influenza A, with all of the viruses were H3N2. In addition, the study showed that 35 of the people or 4% tested positive for influenza B.
The study revealed that this season’s flu vaccine had been given to 49% of the people with influenza and 56% without. From the data gathered, it was estimated by the CDC that the flu vaccine currently available did reduce the risk of going to see a doctor because of having the flu but only by 23%.
Effectiveness of the vaccine specific for the H3N2 viruses was shown to be the highest for children and teens ranging in age between six months and 17 years but still low at only 26%. The lowest numbers were for adults aged 18 to 49 at 12% and adults over the age of 50 at 14%.
Compared to other vaccines used for prior flu seasons, this year’s numbers are low. In past years, the level of effectiveness for vaccinations against the flu reached up to 60%. The problem is that 70% of the H3N2 viruses seen this year are “drift variants”. As a result, the vaccine is far less effective.
Of all viruses, H3N2 are the most severe and as such, they historically have led to the highest number of hospitalizations, as well as deaths. Over the past 10 years, the three seasons with the highest levels of mortality were 2003-2004, 2007-2008, and 2012-2014.
The CDC emphasized that a person’s health status and age will also impact the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. Typically, the vaccine works best in younger and healthier individuals and not as effective in people 50 years of age or older. Even though this season’s vaccine rate is low, the CDC continues to encourage people of all ages, especially in risk groups, to be vaccinated.