Flu Shot or Not?

(This post originally was posted 12/14/18.)

(Author’s note: As we enter the last few weeks of the presidential campaign, there are several campaign issues which have been previously addressed in this blog. These include Medicare for All, single-payer healthcare, socialism, school choice and others. In the next few weeks I will be re-posting many of my previous posts on these issues as a review for voters. For this limited time I will be posting five days a week instead of the usual twice a week. These earlier posts will be intermingled with new posts on current topics.)

(This re-post is especially timely since the 2020 pandemic has made us all aware of how serious a viral infection can be. It is imperative that everyone get the flu vaccine now to maximize your immunity before the Covid-19 vaccine is available.)

It’s that time of the year again. No, I don’t mean Christmas. I mean that time when we all have to decide whether or not to get a flu shot.

Many people skip the flu shot vaccine because they don’t think they need it – or they don’t think it will be effective. Either way you’re taking a big risk. At the very least you’ll suffer through weeks of flu symptoms that will probably keep you out of work for at least a few days. At worst it could actually be fatal. (My maternal grandmother died in the flu epidemic of 1918.)

As of November 9, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was reporting moderate flu activity in Georgia, Louisiana and Oklahoma, and low or minimal activity across the remainder of the country. Influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2), and influenza B viruses are all circulating, with influenza A (H1N1) being the predominant strain so far. The CDC says this one has shown up in 78.3% of samples tested since late September, with H3N2 21.7% and influenza B 13.1%.

The good news is this year’s influenza vaccine contains an A (H1N1) like virus, an A (H3N2) like virus, and a B like virus. The quadrivalent vaccines include these three viruses plus a B 2013 like virus (Yamagata lineage). This means this year’s vaccines are likely to be effective. As of November 9, 159 million doses have already been administered.

Did you get yours?

The CDC says coverage with the flu vaccine among adults was 37.1 percent during the 2017-2018 flu season compared to 43.3 percent the prior year. Coverage was lower in every age group last year but vaccination increased with age from 26.9 percent among adults aged 18 – 49 to 59.6 percent among adults aged 65 and up. Lest you think the flu is innocuous, there were 959,000 hospitalizations and 79,400 deaths last year! Overall effectiveness last year was about 40 percent.

Rachael Zimlich, R.N., writing for Medical Economics, says a new seasonal influenza vaccine aimed at senior patients is moving forward in the clinical trials process after showing early success in offering additional protection to this particularly susceptible population. The new nanoparticle, NanoFlu, has moved forward to Phase 2 clinical trials with 1,375 older adults enrolled to assess dose and formulation of the vaccine before moving onto a Phase 3 study – perhaps in 2019 – to test immunogenicity.

“The low effectiveness of seasonal influenza vaccines, and in particular the A (H3N2) component of the vaccine, during the 2017-2018 season emphasizes the need for a more effective vaccine,” said Gregory M. Glenn, M.D., president of research and development at Novavax, the company developing NanoFlu. “We believe this addresses important public health challenges caused by influenza and offers a significant advantage over current influenza vaccines.”

Influenza is a serious illness and should be taken more seriously than many people do. While current influenza vaccines have had mixed success in preventing illness, there is hope for improvement in the future and no reason to spurn the protection currently being offered. Get your flu shot today!