As flu season continues experts say it’s still not too late to get a vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a new report saying that the current vaccine is 48 percent effective.
Does that mean it’s worth it to get a flu shot?
If so, why do we keep hearing negative reports about the flu vaccine this season?
This year, the most common virus is the influenza A (H3N2) strain. The vaccine was estimated to be 43 percent effective against that strain, and 73 percent effective against the influenza B strain.
CDC officials say they define the vaccine as 48 percent effective because it’s used more often against the H3N2 strain.
A “bad” season?
A report published in the New England Journal of Medicine Journal Watch cited CDC data from Feb. 4 that said flu activity is widespread in 43 states.
This is much higher than average, the report added.
Another CDC report, published by the Associated Press (AP), called the season moderate.
Elodie Ghedin, PhD, a biology professor at New York University, said the season hasn’t been particularly bad despite some of the hype in reports.
“The vaccine is well-matched compared to two years ago when it wasn't. And people are getting vaccinated at relatively the same rate as previous years,” she told Healthline.
Vaccination rates aren’t too different this year compared with others, Akiko Iwasaki, PhD, an immunobiology professor at Yale University, told Healthline.
Experts say you still need a flu shot
“It’s a good but not great vaccine,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt Medical Center in Tennessee, told Healthline.
Schaffner said the 48 percent efficacy figure is pretty normal.
Flu shot effectiveness can range from 35 percent to 65 percent, he said.
That said, people should still get vaccinated, Schaffner said.
The current strain disproportionally affects older adults and children. It is also more likely to cause severe illness. Recent reports of child deaths from the flu have been prominent.
“Every year we have children who are hospitalized with the flu. Most of those children are not vaccinated,” Schaffner noted.
He added that kids usually respond well to the vaccine.
Another reason to “run, do not walk” and get the vaccine: Those who get the vaccine may still experience the flu, but it will be much less severe.
That is something Schaffner said is not represented in the statistics.
Also, getting the vaccine helps cut down on the spread of the virus overall.
“It has a dual effect,” he explained.
While it’s not too late to get a shot, Schaffner said people should get vaccinated in September or October so it covers the whole season.
“It is very important that people get the flu shot,” Iwasaki added.
She noted that a nasal swab is the only way to tell if you have the flu.
Symptoms include fever, chills, sore throat, aches, and fatigue that last for one to two weeks.
Stomach bugs such as rotavirus or norovirus are technically not caused by flu strains though some people refer to them by that name.
“If you do not get the flu shot and catch the flu, then you are suffering needlessly,” Iwasaki said.