Tag: flu deaths

How Many People Die from Vaccine Preventable Diseases These Days?

People don’t often die from vaccine-preventable diseases these days.

At least not in industrial countries.

Deaths from Vaccine-Preventable Diseases Today

Well, they aren’t supposed to.

Dr. Bob Sears actually reassured parents that measles wasn't deadly in developed countries, neglecting to mention the dozens of people who have died in outbreaks in Europe - another well-nourished population with lower vaccination rates than the U.S.
Dr. Bob Sears actually reassured parents that measles wasn’t deadly in developed countries, neglecting to mention the dozens of people who have died in outbreaks in Europe – another well-nourished population with lower vaccination rates than the U.S.

Tragically, we are seeing more and more deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases every day in countries that once had these diseases under good control:

  • over 100 measles deaths across Europe and a measles death in the United States a few years ago
  • diphtheria deaths in Australia, Belgium, South Africa, and Venezuela
  • life-threatening tetanus cases in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Ukraine
  • a rabies death in the United States in a child who’s parents skipped the post-exposure rabies vaccine
  • pertussis deaths in the United States
  • influenza – a record number of deaths in the United States, with most kids unvaccinated
  • rotavirus – yes, unvaccinated kids still die of rotavirus in the United States in the 21st Century! In a recent outbreak in California, in which a child died, almost all of the kids were unvaccinated.

And not surprisingly, these deaths are almost always in unvaccinated children.

Deaths from Vaccine-Preventable Diseases in the Pre-Vaccine Era

While tragic, we are still fortunate that these deaths are no where close to the levels we once saw before we had vaccines to protect our kids.

In the pre-vaccine era, we used to see:

  • up to 15,000 deaths and 200,000 diphtheria cases each year until the 1940s
  • an average of 175,000 cases of pertussis each year in the early 1940s, with about 1,118 deaths from pertussis in 1950 and 467 deaths from pertussis in 1955
  • up to 20,000 cases of paralytic polio each year until the early 1950s
  • an average of about 186,000 cases of mumps each year before 1967, with an average of 40 deaths a year
  • up to 500 deaths and 500,000 measles cases each year until the early 1960s
  • a rubella epidemic in 1964-65 that caused 12.5 million rubella virus infections and “resulted in 11,250 therapeutic or spontaneous abortions, 2,100 neonatal deaths, and 20,000 infants born with congenital rubella syndrome”
  • up to 20,000 cases of invasive H. influenzae (Hib) disease each year, with more than half of them having meningitis, and about 300 to 600 deaths, mostly children under age 2 years. In 1980, 45 children died with epiglottitis and there were an additional 222 deaths from Hib meningitis.
  • up to 11,000 hospitalizations and 100 chicken pox deaths each year until 1995
  • up to 17,000 cases of invasive pneumococcal disease in children younger than 5 years each year (before 2000), including 13,000 cases of bacteremia (blood infection) and 700 cases of pneumococcal meningitis, with 200 deaths.
  • just over 400,000 visits to the doctor and up to 272,000 visits to the emergency room, 70,000 hospitalizations and 20 to 60 deaths each year in children under age 5 years because of rotavirus infections until 2006

But that deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases aren’t common is hardly a reason to skip or delay your child’s vaccines, as some might suggest. It is just testament to the fact that vaccines work.

That these deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases quickly rise as rates of vaccinations drop is a tragic reminder that vaccines are necessary.

As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks.
As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks. Photo by WHO

And what makes it even more tragic is that this was all predicted and could have been prevented if folks didn’t listen to anti-vaccine propaganda that scares them away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

Worldwide Deaths from Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Of course, talk of deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases shouldn’t stop with the developed or industrial world.

Even as a lot of progress is being made, as more and more people get vaccinated, worldwide, there were:

  • about 89,780 measles deaths, mostly young children
  • about 215,000 deaths from rotavirus infections
  • at least 1 million deaths from hepatitis B
  • almost 200,000 deaths from Hib
  • over 4,200 deaths from chicken pox
  • about 50,000 deaths from meningococcal infections
  • about 160,000 deaths from pertussis
  • about 826,000 deaths from pneumococcal infections
  • almost 60,000 deaths from rabies
  • just over 70,000 deaths from tetanus
  • about 222,000 deaths from typhoid
  • between 30,000 to 60,000 deaths from yellow fever

As you can see, most of these diseases are still big killers around the world.

“You hear about people who don’t like to vaccinate their kids in the Western world, which I suppose is a personal choice, but when you’re out there, the result of your children not being vaccinated is that they’ll likely die, or be horribly maimed. So yes, I saw a real desire to have their children protected, and also a real understanding of it – I didn’t seem to come across anybody who went ‘What is it?’ Or ‘What does it do?’ They all seemed to know about it.”

Ewan McGregor on Cold Chain Mission

In most of these countries, the problem is access to vaccines though, not parents refusing to get their kids vaccinated.

What to Know About Deaths from Vaccine Preventable Diseases

Unvaccinated kids are still dying from vaccine-preventable diseases.

More on Deaths from Vaccine Preventable Diseases

The Strategic Plan to Develop a Universal Influenza Vaccine

Even before you get to talk about problems with flu vaccine effectiveness,  it becomes clear that everyone wants a better flu vaccine.

One big problem with the current generation of flu vaccines?

You have to get them each and every year.

Developing a Better Flu Vaccine

So what would we all want in a new and better flu vaccine?

It would:

  • last longer, so you didn’t have to get a new vaccine every year
  • be more effective
  • cover more flu vaccine strains, so it wasn’t a “guess” about which flu strains to include in the flu vaccine each year and we didn’t have to worry about drifted flu vaccine strains or new and emerging strains for which there is no vaccine

A universal flu vaccine, which covers all possible flu strains, would be ideal.

So why haven’t we been working on developing a universal flu vaccine?

Well, we have.

It just isn’t that easy.

Many different research teams have been working on a universal flu vaccine for years and some have already had some success.

Does that mean we will see a universal flu vaccine soon?

Unfortunately, of the almost 40 organizations working on improved flu vaccines, including a universal flu vaccine, about 30 are still in preclinical or phase 1 trials. So the answer is no, we will not see a universal flu vaccine soon.

The Strategic Plan to Develop a Universal Influenza Vaccine

Maybe that will change now that more and more folks are pushing for a better flu vaccine and we see the effects of severe flu seasons without a good vaccine.

Of course, talk isn’t enough.

“A priority for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is development of an influenza vaccine providing durable protection against multiple influenza strains, including those that may cause a pandemic, i.e., a universal influenza vaccine. To invigorate research efforts, NIAID developed a strategic plan focused on knowledge gaps in three major research areas, as well as additional resources required to ensure progress towards a universal influenza vaccine. NIAID will use this plan as a foundation for future investments in influenza research and will support and coordinate a consortium of multidisciplinary scientists focused on accelerating progress towards this goal.”

Erbelding et al on A Universal Influenza Vaccine: The Strategic Plan for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

That’s why it is also encouraging that we have seen the:

  • The Flu Vaccine Act would help fund a universal flu vaccine.the Pathway to a Universal Influenza Vaccine workshop convened by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in 2017
  • the Strategic Plan for Developing a Universal Influenza Vaccine by the NIAID that was announced in 2018
  • U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced the Flu Vaccine Act, which would invest $1 billion towards development of a universal flu vaccine

Knowing that developing a universal flu vaccine is a priority of the NIAID and that so many organizations are already working towards this goal is very reassuring.

Hopefully we are a lot closer than some folks thing.

Until then, a seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to avoid the flu and serious flu complications.

What to Know About Developing a Universal Influenza Vaccine

Developing a better flu vaccine, including a universal flu vaccine, is an even bigger priority with the announcement of the Strategic Plan for Developing a Universal Influenza Vaccine.

More on Developing a Universal Influenza Vaccine

Are Vaccinated Children Dying from the Flu?

We know that kids die from the flu, not just this year, but every year.

In fact, on average, just over 100 kids die of the flu each year!

The flu is a terrible disease.

How Many Kids Die from the Flu?

The CDC started to track pediatric flu deaths in the fall of 2004, when it became nationally reportable. This followed a particularly bad 2003-04 flu season (H3N2-predominant), during which the CDC got reports of 153 pediatric deaths from only 40 states.

Since then, the number of pediatric flu deaths has ranged from a low of 37, during the 2011-12 flu season, to a high of 289 deaths during the swine flu pandemic.

  • 2004-05 flu season – 47 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2005-06 flu season – 46 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2006-07 flu season – 77 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2007-08 flu season – 88 pediatric flu deaths (H3N2-predominant)
  • 2008-09 flu season – 137 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2009-10 flu season – 289 pediatric flu deaths (swine flu pandemic)
  • 2010-11 flu season – 123 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2011-12 flu season – 37 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2012-13 flu season – 171 pediatric flu deaths (H3N2-predominant)
  • 2013-14 flu season – 111 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2014-15 flu season – 148 pediatric flu deaths (H3N2-predominant)
  • 2015-16 flu season – 93 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2016-17 flu season – 110 pediatric flu deaths (H3N2-predominant)

So far, this year, there have been 174 flu deaths in children.

Are Vaccinated Children Dying from the Flu?

The anti-vaccine movement is obviously the one in PANIC MODE as they continue putting out anti-vaccine propaganda.
The anti-vaccine movement is obviously the one in PANIC MODE as they continue putting out anti-vaccine propaganda, even as unvaccinated kids continue to die.

Although this year’s flu season, in which an H3N2 flu strain got off to an early start, certainly has the potential to be a lot worse than your average flu season, it seems similar to other H3N2 flu seasons.

Tragically, that means a lot of kids will likely die with the flu this season. H3N2-predominant flu seasons tend to be much worse than when other flu virus strains

And like previous flu seasons, we know that:

  • many of them will be otherwise healthy, without an underlying high risk medical condition
  • half will be between 5 to 17 years old

And most of them will be unvaccinated.

“During past seasons, approximately 80% of flu-associated deaths in children have occurred in children who were not vaccinated. Based on available data, this remains true for the 2017-2018 season, as well.”

CDC on How many flu-associated deaths occur in people who have been vaccinated?

And we also know that it isn’t too late to get a flu shot to get protected for the rest of this year’s flu season.

What to Know About Pediatric Flu Deaths

The flu vaccine isn’t perfect, but there is no denying the fact that year after year, most pediatric flu deaths are in kids who weren’t vaccinated.

More on Pediatric Flu Deaths

Updated June 15, 2018

Flu Season Hype or Hazard

Is this going to be the worst flu season in history?

The editors from The New York Times really want to know if this is the worst flu season since...
The editors from The New York Times really want to know if this is the worst flu season since…

That certainly seems to be how the media is playing it.

Have you read any of these articles?

  • California’s deadly flu season could be worst in a decade
  • Defending against this season’s deadly flu: 5 things to know
  • The CDC says this year’s flu may reach ‘epidemic’ proportions
  • Worst of deadly flu season may still be to come, Dallas County officials say
  • Texas Is Suffering Through its Worst Flu Outbreak in Decades
  • Hospital Overrun By Flu Cases Having To Turn Them Away
  • Get ready, some medical experts are predicting the worst flu season in history

Worst flu season in history? Really?

Flu Season Hazard

Flu season can be deadly.

That’s not hype.

That’s why every one should get a flu shot each year.

Early flu seasons can be bad.

Why? They overlap with RSV season. That means that everyone is sick at the same time with bronchiolitis, croup, colds, and the flu.

They are especially bad because many people haven’t taken the time to get their flu shot yet.

And an H3N2-predominant flu season can be especially bad. In addition to high levels of pediatric flu deaths, the CDC reports that the four flu seasons that were H3N2-predominant in recent years were “the four seasons with the highest flu-associated mortality levels in the past decade.” H3N2 virus strains drift easily, so that flu vaccines are less effective.

Flu Season Hype

Right off the bat, one big problem with most of these headlines, and the way that this year’s flu season is being hyped, is folks going out of their way to use the word “deadly” every chance they can.

Every flu season is deadly!

And guess what?

Flu season reaches “epidemic proportions” each and every year!

“The United States experiences epidemics of seasonal flu each year. This time of year is called flu season.”

CDC on Frequently Asked Flu Questions 2017-2018 Influenza Season

And we get to the point, in many cities, where a hospital fills up for a few days and has to turn away flu cases. It happens with RSV too. Its called a “code Yellow” in some hospitals.

The biggest problem with the current news coverage though, is that there hasn’t been much evidence that this is going to be the worst flu season that we have seen, although it is starting to live up to some of the hype.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says flu season runs from about September to May. Most years in Texas, a number called the ILI percentage — the number of patients doctors see with flu-like symptoms — checks in at about 2 percent or 3 percent during the offseason and crests to about 6 percent during the worst of the flu season. This year, according to a model developed by a Carnegie Mellon University team led by Roni Rosenfeld, Texas’ ILI percentage has already risen above 13 percent.”

“This is really record-breaking. In the last 20 years [the estimated number of people presenting flu symptoms] hasn’t reached that height,” Rosenfeld says. “It’s the highest it’s been this early in the season, and it’s the highest it’s been period.”

Dallas Observer on Texas Is Suffering Through its Worst Flu Outbreak in Decades

Do you know what is wrong with that report in the Dallas Observer?

texas-flu-season-ili

It misses that the ILI percentage was above 14% in Texas during the 2014-15 flu season too! So no records were being broken.

texas-flu-ili-more-years

The ILI percentage was actually between 10 to just over 14% for three out of four years recently.

Will hyping the flu to make it sound even more dangerous scare folks into getting a flu shot?

Probably not, as the media is also doing a good job of scaring folks into thinking that the flu shot isn’t effective this year!

Routine CDC Telebriefings during flu season used to be a good way of keeping this kind of hype down. We don’t seem to have them anymore…

(We did finally have one the week after I first posted this article though…)

Flu Season Hype or Hazard

What does any of this mean for this year’s flu season?

The New York Times had a good story, with a good headline to match:

They unfortunately followed it up with one that didn’t really seem to fit what the CDC is telling us…

An important take away from their first story? It actually reported on a lower hospitalization rate (at the time, it has since increased) this year than the 2014-15 flu season.

So far, this year's flu season is closely following the 2014-15 flu season.
So far, this year’s flu season is closely following the 2014-15 flu season.

Why is the 2014-15 flu season important?

For one thing, looking at real data and not just trying to scare folks, we can say that this year’s flu season has looked a lot like the 2014-15 flu season. That was also an H3N2-predominant flu season that got off to an early start, but tragically, ended up killing at least 148 children.

The 2014-15 flu season looked a lot like the 2012-13 flu season.
The 2014-15 flu season looked a lot like the 2012-13 flu season.

I’m sure that few people remember, but the 2014-15 flu season looked a lot like another  H3N2-predominant flu season – the 2012-13 flu season. That year, we also got off to an early start and again, tragically, we ended up with 171 pediatric flu deaths.

So, is this going to be a bad flu season?

Is there ever a good flu season?

“This season now looking like the 2014-15 season where H3N2 predominated.”

Dan Jernigan, MD, MPH Director of the Influenza Division in the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases

It’s hard to predict, but the odds are strongly against this being the worst flu season in history.

This year’s flu season is starting to live up to some of the hype though.

“The overall hospitalization rate is higher than the overall hospitalization rate reported during the same week of the 2014-2015 season; the most severe season in recent years.”

CDC Influenza Situation Update

On the other hand, fewer pediatric flu deaths have been reported so far (84 pediatric deaths) this year than at the same point in the 2014-15 (86 pediatric deaths) flu season.

Flu is still widespread in 48 states, but some evidence that we are peaking.
Flu is still widespread in 48 states, but some evidence that we are peaking.

And ILI has finally peaked (hopefully).

At 7.5%, it is the highest we have seen since the 2009 pandemic.

“The majority of the influenza viruses collected from the United States during October 1, 2017 through February 10, 2018 were characterized antigenically and genetically as being similar to the cell-grown reference viruses representing the 2017–18 Northern Hemisphere influenza vaccine viruses.”

CDC Situation Update: Summary of Weekly FluView Report

And we don’t have a mismatched flu strain or a strain that has drifted to be concerned about.

That doesn’t mean that the flu vaccine is going to work perfectly, by any means, but initial reports are that this year’s flu vaccine is much more effective than expected.

It's sad that Inside Car News had a better headline for their story on the effectiveness of this year's flu vaccine than Fox News, the WSJ, and HuffPo.
It’s sad that Inside Car News had a better headline for their story on the effectiveness of this year’s flu vaccine than Fox News, the WSJ, and HuffPo.

The best news, besides a very good supply of flu vaccines and anti-viral medicines, like Tamiflu, this year?

We saw the same H3N2 strain in the United States last year. Although that might not guarantee immunity if you had the flu last year, it should offer some protection against severe disease.

Also, we have some new flu vaccines, including the cell-based vaccine, Flucelvax, and high dose flu shots and flu shots with adjuvants for adults 65 years of age and older.

Still, like most H3N2-predominant flu seasons, it will at best be a moderately severe flu season.

Worst ever? That’s doubtful.

Ignore the hype, but don’t ignore the advice to get vaccinated and protected against the flu. It’s never too late to get a flu shot. Even with an early start, flu season will continue into the spring.

What to Know About Flu Season Hype or Hazard

Like other H3N2-predominant flu seasons, this year’s flu season will be moderately-severe, but warnings that it could be the worst flu season ever are likely just hype.

More on Flu Season Hype or Hazard

Updated February 17, 2018

What Are the Benefits of the Flu Shot?

So that flu shot you got isn’t going to be 100% effective this year…

That doesn’t mean that you didn’t make a great decision getting your family vaccinated and protected! Or that you shouldn’t still take the time to go out and get a flu shot if you haven’t yet.

The flu vaccine works, even if it isn’t perfect.

Benefits of the Flu Shot

The benefits of the flu shot go far beyond just avoiding the flu.
The benefits of the flu shot go far beyond simply helping you avoid the flu. Most flu related deaths in children are in those who are unvaccinated.

What good is the flu shot if it doesn’t completely eliminate your risk of catching the flu?

How about the simple fact that even if doesn’t completely eliminate that risk 100%, a flu shot does decrease your risk of getting sick with the flu?

But it doesn’t end there.

Other benefits of a yearly flu shot include that it can:

  • reduce the risk of flu-associated death in children with underlying high-risk medical conditions by just over half (51%)
  • reduce the risk of flu-associated death in healthy children by just over two thirds (65%) – this is important, because despite what most people believe, many of the kids who die with the flu each year don’t have any underlying health problems
  • reduce how sick you get, even if you do get the flu, reducing “deaths, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, ICU length of stay, and overall duration of hospitalization among hospitalized flu patients.”
  • reduce the risk of the babies getting hospitalized in their first 6 months when pregnant moms got a flu shot
  • reduce asthma attacks leading to emergency visits and/or hospitalizations in people with asthma

Getting vaccinated can also reduce the risk that you get sick with the flu and get someone else sick.

Considering all of these benefits, it is hard to imagine why anyone wouldn’t get a flu shot, even in year’s when it might just be 60% or even 40% effective.

I mean, it isn’t like the flu shot is actually going to give you the flu or anything…

Have you gotten your flu shot yet this flu season?

What to Know About the Benefits of the Flu Shot

In addition to helping you avoid getting sick with the flu, getting a yearly flu shot has many other indirect benefits, so that even if you get the flu, it can help you avoid getting really sick and ending up in the hospital, ICU, or getting so sick that you don’t survive.

More on the Benefits of the Flu Shot

Updated February 17, 2018

How Effective Is the Flu Vaccine?

The flu vaccine works.

How well does it work?

It depends…

How Effective Is the Flu Vaccine?

What does it depend on?

“The vaccine effectiveness of seasonal influenza vaccines is a measure of how well the seasonal influenza vaccine prevents influenza virus infection in the general population during a given influenza season.”

WHO on Vaccine effectiveness estimates for seasonal influenza vaccines

Is the flu virus that is going around the same strain that was picked to be in the flu vaccine?

Once upon a time, we didn't have flu vaccines to help keep us healthy.
Once upon a time, we didn’t have flu vaccines to help keep us healthy.

Has the flu virus drifted, even if it is the same strain that is in the flu vaccine, becoming different enough that your protective flu antibodies won’t recognize it?

Is the H3N2 strain of flu virus the predominate strain during the flu season? H3N2 predominant flu seasons are thought to be worse than others.

In general, the flu vaccine is going to be less effective in a season where there is a poor match between the circulating strain of flu virus that is getting people sick and the strain that is in the flu vaccine, especially if it is an H3N2 strain that has drifted.

That’s why, since the 2004-05 season, the average flu vaccine effectiveness has been about 41%.

How Effective Is This Year’s Flu Vaccine?

It’s probably also why, every year, we seem to hear the same questions:

  • Should I get a flu vaccine? – yes, definitely
  • Will we have enough flu vaccines? – while historically there have been some delays and shortages, we have a very good supply of flu vaccine this year, between 151 to 166 million doses
  • How effective is this year’s flu vaccine???

Unfortunately, we usually don’t know the answer to that last question until this year’s flu season really gets going.

What about reports that the flu vaccine effectiveness will be as low as 10% this year?

It is important to note that those reports are not based on flu activity in the United States and it has been a long time since we have seen flu vaccine effectiveness that low – the 2004-05 flu season. That was the year that because of a drifted A(H3N2) virus, “only 5% of viruses from study participants were well matched to vaccine strains.”

The 10% number is instead based on reports of Australia’s flu season, in which early estimates found that the A(H3N2) component of the flu vaccine was only 10% effective. Importantly, the overall vaccine effectiveness was much higher. Including other strains, the flu vaccine in Australia was at least 33% effective this past year.

“In the temperate regions of the Southern Hemisphere, influenza activity typically occurs during April – September.”

CDC on Influenza Prevention: Information for Travelers

Couldn’t we see a drifted A(H3N2) virus this year?

Sure, especially since an A(H3N2) virus will likely be the dominant strain, but so far “data indicate that currently circulating viruses have not undergone significant antigenic drift.”

“It is difficult to predict which influenza viruses will predominate in the 2017–18 influenza season; however, in recent past seasons in which A(H3N2) viruses predominated, hospitalizations and deaths were more common, and the effectiveness of the vaccine was lower.”

CDC on Update: Influenza Activity — United States, October 1–November 25, 2017

Again, it is too early to predict how effective the flu vaccine will be, but based on an undrifted H3N2 virus that is matched to the vaccine, you might expect an effectiveness between 30 to 40%.

It might be less if theories about egg-adapted mutations are true and are a factor this year.

“…some currently circulating A(H3N2) viruses are less similar to egg-adapted viruses used for production of the majority of U.S. influenza vaccines.”

CDC on Update: Influenza Activity — United States, October 1–November 25, 2017

It is also important to keep in mind that vaccine effectiveness numbers from Australia and the United States don’t always match up.

For example, in 2009, Australia reported an interim flu vaccine effectiveness of just 9%, but in the United States, the flu vaccine ended up being 56% effective! On the other hand, in 2014, the flu vaccine worked fairly well in Australia, but vaccine effectiveness was found to be just 19% in the United States.

Vaccine Effectiveness by Year
Australia United States
2007 60% 2007-08 37%
2008 NE 2008-09 41%
2009 7% 2009-10 56%
2010 73% 2010-11 60%
2011 48% 2011-12 47%
2012 44% 2012-13 49%
2013 55% 2013-14 52%
2014  50% 2014-15 19%
2015  ?% 2015-16 48%
2016  ?% 2016-17 42%
2017 33% 2017-18 ?%

What does all of this mean?

Not much.

“This season’s flu vaccine includes the same H3N2 vaccine component as last season, and most circulating H3N2 viruses that have been tested in the United States this season are still similar to the H3N2 vaccine virus. Based on this data, CDC believes U.S. VE estimates from last season are likely to be a better predictor of the flu vaccine benefits to expect this season against circulating H3N2 viruses in the United States. This is assuming minimal change to circulating H3N2 viruses. However, because it is early in the season, CDC flu experts cannot predict which flu viruses will predominate. Estimates of the flu vaccine’s effectiveness against circulating flu viruses in the United States will be available later in the season.”

CDC on Frequently Asked Flu Questions 2017-2018 Influenza Season

The reports about what happened in Australia should not have made headlines beyond Australia.

Folks should have waited for the yearly report on flu vaccine effectiveness from the CDC, which usually comes out in the middle of February. This year, that report states that:

  • the overall adjusted vaccine effectiveness against influenza A and influenza B virus infection associated with medically attended acute respiratory illness was 36%
  • vaccine effectiveness was estimated to be 25% against illness caused by influenza A(H3N2) virus, 67% against A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses, and 42% against influenza B viruses
  • the flu vaccine offered statistically significant protection against medically attended influenza among adults aged 18–49 years with an adjusted vaccine effectiveness of 33%

What about kids?

“…among children aged 6 months through 8 years, the interim estimates against any influenza and A(H3N2) virus infection were higher; the risk for A(H3N2) associated medically-attended influenza illness was reduced by more than half (59%) among vaccinated children. Also, with interim VE estimates of 67% and 42% against influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 and B viruses, respectively, vaccination provided substantial protection against circulating A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses, as well as moderate protection against influenza B viruses predominantly belonging to the B/Yamagata lineage, the second influenza type B component included in quadrivalent vaccines.”

CDC on Interim Estimates of 2017–18 Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness — United States, February 2018

So the flu vaccine ended up being a lot more effective than folks predicted, especially in younger, higher risk kids, although it is still far from perfect.

Unfortunately, this year’s flu vaccine was not effective at preventing medically-attended influenza illness (flu case that sends you to see a doctor) for the 9 to 17 year old age group for some reason. That’s still not a good reason to skip the flu vaccine if your child hasn’t had it though, as the flu vaccine might still work to help your child, even if doesn’t fully prevent a case of the flu.

The Flu Vaccine Works

Getting a flu vaccine has many benefits with few risks and can:

  • reduce your chances of getting the flu
  • reduce the chances that your newborn gets the flu if you get your flu shot while pregnant
  • lead to milder symptoms if you do get the flu
  • reduce your risk of being hospitalized
  • reduce your risk of dying from the flu

And while it isn’t perfect, getting a flu vaccine is certainly better than remaining unprotected and simply taking your chances that you won’t get the flu and complications from the flu.

What to Know About Flu Vaccine Effectiveness

Although the effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies from year to year, depending on how well matched the vaccine is to circulating flu virus strains, which strains are dominant, and whether they have drifted, it is always a good idea to get vaccinated and protected.

More on Flu Vaccine Effectiveness

This Year’s Flu Season

Breaking News: Flu season is essentially over. (see below)

As we get into late spring and early summer, you can see that few states still have flu activity.
As we get into late spring and early summer, you can see that few states still have flu activity.

While flu season typically peaks in February, it is very important to understand that there are few things that are typical about the flu.

Since 1982, while we have been twice as likely to see a flu activity peak in February than other winter months, we have been just as likely to get that peak in December, January, or March. That makes it important to get your flu vaccine as soon as you can.

You really never know if it is going to be an early, average, or late flu season.

Flu Facts

There will likely be some surprises this flu season – there always are – but there are some things that you can unfortunately count on.

Among these flu facts include that:

  • there have been over 1,600 pediatric flu deaths since the 2003-04 flu season, including 110 flu deaths last year
  • about 113 kids die of the flu each year – most of them unvaccinated
  • antiviral flu medicines, such as Tamiflu, while recommended to treat high-risk people, including kids under 2 to 5 years of age, have very modest benefits at best (they don’t do all that much, are expensive, don’t taste good, and can have side effects, etc.)
  • a flu vaccine is the best way to decrease your child’s chances of getting the flu

And even in a mild flu season, a lot of kids get sick with the flu.

What about reports that the flu shot will be only 10% effective?

Don’t believe them. The flu vaccine works and besides, it has many benefits beyond keeping you from getting the flu

This Year’s Flu Season

When does flu season start?

In general, flu season starts when you begin to see people around you with signs and symptoms of the flu, including fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue, etc. To be more accurate, you can also look at reports for flu activity in your area, especially the weekly reports from the CDC. Those flu reports can also help you determine when flu season ends.

It is obvious now that this is an early flu season. And with an H3N2 predominant strain, everyone should understand that is going to be a severe season.

Worst season ever? Probably not. But this season is starting to live up to some of the hype, as influenza-like-illness (ILI) activity is at 7.5% and is approaching the 7.7 peak of the 2009 pandemic and the overall hospitalization rate is higher than the overall hospitalization rate reported during the same week of the 2014-2015 season.

That leaves the next big questions – when will flu season peak and when will it be over?

As of mid-June, the CDC reports that flu activity is low in most parts of the United States.

The CDC has also recently reported that:

  • between 151 to 166 million doses of flu vaccine will be available this year, including 130 million doses of thimerosal-free or preservative-free flu shots, so the great majority of flu shots will not contain mercury!
  • FluMist, the nasal spray flu vaccine, will return next year
  • there have already been 174 pediatric flu deaths this year, including 2 new pediatric deaths that were reported this past week, and like in other recent years, most pediatric flu deaths are in kids who are unvaccinated

Are you going to get your kids a flu vaccine next year?

“CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get an injectable flu vaccine as soon as possible.”

CDC Influenza Situation Update

Flu season is essentially over, although like many other flu seasons, we will likely continue to see some flu activity throughout the spring and summer months.

And remember that while this is certainly a very bad flu season, it is still comparable to other recent H3N2 seasons, especially the 2012-13 and 2014-15 seasons.

Recent Flu Seasons

Are H3N2 predominant flu seasons really worse than others?

  • 2003-04 flu season – 152 pediatric flu deaths (H3N2-predominant)
  • 2004-05 flu season – 47 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2005-06 flu season – 46 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2006-07 flu season – 77 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2007-08 flu season – 88 pediatric flu deaths (H3N2-predominant)
  • 2008-09 flu season – 137 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2009-10 flu season – 289 pediatric flu deaths (swine flu pandemic)
  • 2010-11 flu season – 123 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2011-12 flu season – 37 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2012-13 flu season – 171 pediatric flu deaths (H3N2-predominant)
  • 2013-14 flu season – 111 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2014-15 flu season – 148 pediatric flu deaths (H3N2-predominant)
  • 2015-16 flu season – 93 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2016-17 flu season – 110 pediatric flu deaths (H3N2-predominant)

In addition to high levels of pediatric flu deaths, the CDC reports that the four flu seasons that were H3N2-predominant in recent years were “the four seasons with the highest flu-associated mortality levels in the past decade.”

For More Information on the 2017-18 Flu Season

Updated June 15, 2018

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