CDC Talks Flu: Vaccine Still Offers Protection

Flu vaccine against influenza A H3N2 might prevent serious complications, even though it may not be as effective this year

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) It's flu season again, and the experts are reminding people to get vaccinated.

The flu vaccine might not be as effective against this year's most common influenza strain because the virus has mutated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But that doesn't mean people shouldn't get vaccinated, the CDC said.

"While the vaccine’s ability to protect against drifted H3N2 viruses this season may be reduced, we are still strongly recommending vaccination,” said Joseph Bresee, MD, Chief of the Influenza Epidemiology and Prevention Branch at CDC.

"Vaccination has been found to provide some protection against drifted viruses in past seasons. Also, vaccination will offer protection against other flu viruses that may become more common later in the season," Dr. Bresee said in a press statement.

Hannah Chow-Johnson, MD, a pediatrician at Loyola University Health System, told dailyRx News that she recommends the flu vaccine for most people.

"Because there are many strains of flu out there, there is still at least partial protection with the flu vaccine, and coverage of some strains of flu, even if there has been a shift, will be beneficial to general health," Dr. Chow-Johnson said.

"Everyone should get a flu vaccine, except those allergic to the vaccine components," she said.

The most commonly reported flu strain this year is influenza A (H3N2), which has been found in nearly every state. In the past, this strain has been tied to more serious complications — especially among older people, young children and people with chronic health problems — than during seasons dominated by other flu strains.

A CDC advisory said 52 percent of the influenza A (H3N2) viruses collected this year were different than the strain included in the current vaccine. Those differences suggest that this strain has mutated, or drifted.

Since vaccines target particular strains, this year's vaccine may not be as protective against the mutated strain. However, the CDC said that the vaccination can provide some protection. Vaccination might lower the risk of hospitalization and death, the agency said.

"It’s too early to say for sure that this will be a severe flu season, but Americans should be prepared,” said CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, in a press statement. "We can save lives with a three-pronged effort to fight the flu: vaccination, prompt treatment for people at high risk of complications, and preventive health measures, such as staying home when you’re sick, to reduce flu spread."

The CDC is also highlighting the importance of antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir). These medications have been shown to reduce severe outcomes of flu, especially when given as soon as symptoms appear.

The CDC recommends that people 6 months of age and older get the flu vaccine. Talk to your doctor before getting vaccinated. The CDC also recommends that anyone with flu-like symptoms seek care promptly to see whether treatment with antiviral medications is needed.

Review Date: 
December 4, 2014
Last Updated:
December 7, 2014