CDC has just issued a statement saying that the flu vaccine is not likely to be as effective as it was in the past:
“Influenza viral characterization data indicates that 48% of the influenza A (H3N2) viruses…from October 1 through November 22, 2014 were antigenically “like” the 2014-2015 influenza A (H3N2) vaccine component, but that 52% were antigenically different (drifted) from the H3N2 vaccine virus.”
In other words, more than 50% of the viruses that have been reported and examined this flu season have genetically changed and so are not the same as the one used in the flu vaccine.
Vaccines are still useful, though:
- The CDC says that vaccination still provides some protection against the changed viruses.
- The vaccine may still reduce the severity of the flu, cutting down on the risk of hospitalization and death.
- The vaccine still offers protection against flu viruses that have not changed.
Changing viruses and less effective vaccines is a concern, but there’s good news, too. CNN reported that a team from Columbia University has produced an award-winning computer model that can predict where the flu will break out next!
The team used flu data with formulas normally applied to weather forecasting. They’ve created an interactive website with a real-time map of the U.S. showing the severity of flu cases in large cities, including incidence numbers and a prediction for outbreaks in each city in the coming weeks.
The Columbia professor in charge of the project believes the program could be helpful on several fronts:
“This provides people a window into the future and what pathogens might be coming down the pike. …It may help parents decide when to schedule their children’s play dates or it may also help remind people to think about getting vaccinated for influenza if they know that their city is going to be hit particularly hard during one week.”
The prediction tool may be useful, but the CDC still recommends vaccination, especially for certain people:
The Atlantic reports CDC’s Joe Bresee as saying, “We are recommending strongly still that people who haven’t been vaccinated get vaccinated.” The message is especially important for parents with children. According to the CDC, of the 149 children that died during the 2012-2013 flu season and had flu-like symptoms, 90-percent were unvaccinated.