Tag: flu vaccines

Is H1N1 Flu Back This Year?

You remember H1N1 flu, right?

Is it back this year?

Is H1N1 Flu Back This Year?

While H1N1 seems to be the most frequently identified influenza virus type this year, in reality, since causing the “swine flu” pandemic in 2009, this strain of flu virus never really went away.

It instead became a seasonal flu virus strains.

So it is back again this year, but just like it was back during the 2013-14 and 2015-16 flu seasons.

Is that good news or bad news?

In general, it’s good news, as “flu vaccines provide better protection against influenza B or influenza A (H1N1) viruses than against influenza A (H3N2) viruses.”

“The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus (referred to as “swine flu” early on) was first detected in people in the United States in April 2009. This virus was originally referred to as “swine flu” because laboratory testing showed that its gene segments were similar to influenza viruses that were most recently identified in and known to circulate among pigs. CDC believes that this virus resulted from reassortment, a process through which two or more influenza viruses can swap genetic information by infecting a single human or animal host. When reassortment does occur, the virus that emerges will have some gene segments from each of the infecting parent viruses and may have different characteristics than either of the parental viruses, just as children may exhibit unique characteristics that are like both of their parents. In this case, the reassortment appears most likely to have occurred between influenza viruses circulating in North American pig herds and among Eurasian pig herds. Reassortment of influenza viruses can result in abrupt, major changes in influenza viruses, also known as “antigenic shift.” When shift happens, most people have little or no protection against the new influenza virus that results.”

Origin of 2009 H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu): Questions and Answers

The only reason we were so concerned about this strain of H1N1 in 2009 was because it was new.

Still, even in a good year, it is important to remember that a lot of people die with the flu, including a lot of kids. And most of them are unvaccinated.

So while it might be interesting to talk about which flu virus strain is going around, just remember that your best protection against that strain is a yearly flu vaccine.

More on H1N1 Flu

Is This Year’s Flu Vaccine Working?

Flu season is just getting started, but I’m sure that you have already heard folks rating how well this year’s flu shots are working.

Are flu vaccines working well?
Are flu vaccines working well?

Of course, if you had a flu shot and have already gotten the flu, then you’re gonna think the flu shot isn’t working very well at all.

And if you are vaccinated and protected and have avoided the flu, then it is working so far, right?

Is This Year’s Flu Vaccine Working?

While we won’t know how well this year’s flu vaccine is working until the CDC releases the preliminary estimates on flu vaccine effectiveness, there are some good signs already.

  1. The majority of the influenza viruses collected from the United States so far have been “characterized antigenically and genetically as being similar to the cell-grown reference viruses representing the 2018–2019 Northern Hemisphere influenza vaccine viruses.”
  2. The most frequently identified influenza virus type reported by public health laboratories was influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 virus.

Remember, to be effective, you want the flu vaccine to match the strains of flu virus that are circulating in the community. A mismatch in flu virus strain or antigenic drifting leads to lower flu vaccine effectiveness (VE).

Remember 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.” And the flu vaccine wasn’t very effective at all.

Still, even when the flu vaccine matches circulating strains, in general, as we have certainly seen, “flu vaccines provide better protection against influenza B or influenza A (H1N1) viruses than against influenza A (H3N2) viruses.”

YearFlu Virus StrainVE
2004-05A(H3N2)10
2005-06A(H3N2)21
2006-07A(H1N1)52
2007-08A(H3N2)37
2008-09A(H1N1)41
2009-10A(H1N1)pdm0956
2010-11A(H3N2)60
2011-12A(H3N2)47
2012-13A(H3N2)49
2013-14A(H1N1)pdm0952
2014-15A(H3N2)19
2015-16A(H1N1)pdm0948
2016-17A(H3N2)40
2017-18A(H3N2)40
2018-19A(H1N1)pdm09?

So if you had to guess, you could probably say that this year’s flu vaccine is going to be at least 50% effective.

So just as good as flipping a coin? Not exactly.

There are a lot of benefits to getting a flu shot besides avoiding the flu, like avoiding severe flu, hospitalization, and death.

And since flu vaccines are safe and flu can be a life-threatening disease, even in those without any medical problems, wouldn’t you take any chance you could to reduce your child’s chances of getting sick?

When will we know how well this year’s flu vaccine is really working?

The CDC typically releases the first preliminary flu vaccine effectiveness report of the season in February.

Not that you should wait! Flu season is well underway and this is a great time to get a flu vaccine and get protected for the rest of flu season.

More on the Effectiveness of This Year’s Flu Vaccine

Did Dr. Bob Uncover a CDC Plot to Give Adult Flu Shots to Babies?

Have you heard the news?

Uh, the ACIP can't request a license for a vaccine...
Uh, the ACIP can’t request a license for a vaccine…

Dr. Bob and his new podcasting side kick think that the “CDC wants the FDA to approve adult doses of the flu vaccine for babies, because the normal half-doses approved for babies don’t work well enough.”

Did Dr. Bob Uncover a CDC Plot to Give Adult Flu Shots to Babies?

This is likely going to surprise Dr. Bob, but many infants already get the same dose of flu vaccine as adults.

Both FluLaval and Fluarix are given at the same 0.5ml dose, containing 15 µg of HA per vaccine virus, to infants, older children, and adults.

Fluzone, on the other hand, is still given at a 0.25ml dose, containing 7.5 µg of HA per vaccine virus, to children between the ages of 6 months to three years, and a larger 0.5ml dose to older kids and adults.

Why the differences?

“In a randomized trial comparing immunogenicity and safety of 0.5 mL FluLaval Quadrivalent with 0.25 mL Fluzone Quadrivalent, safety and reactogenicity were similar between the two vaccines.”

Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices—United States, 2018–19 Influenza Season

Because they are just as safe at the lower doses and might actually work better.

Then why did we ever use a lower dose for infants?

That recommendation was based on the older, whole-virus version of the flu shot, which did cause more side effects for infants when given at a full dose. We now use split-virus flu shots that don’t have this problem.

And now, the manufacturer of Fluzone has done a study, and not surprisingly, they have also found that “safety profile of a 0.5 ml (full-dose) is similar to 0.25 ml (half-dose) and may be more immunogenic.”

So they are submitting a BLA to the FDA for the use of the 0.5ml dose of their flu vaccine for infants.

What about the idea of an “adult dose of mercury” for infants?

Over 80% of flu vaccines were thimerosal free this year. You almost have to go out of your way to get your kids a flu vaccine with thimerosal, so no, this won’t mean an “adult dose of mercury” for your infant.

Most importantly though, if you understand how vaccines work, you know that the dose of vaccines for kids and adults is not calibrated by weight or age, so none of this really matters. The immune reaction that helps antibodies travel all through your body starts locally, near where the vaccine was given, so a 20-pound infant and a 200-pound adult can get the same dose of flu shot and both can be protected.

More on Dr. Bob’s CDC Plot to Give Adult Flu Shots to Babies

Understanding Flu Season

Flu season starts.

A lot of folks get sick as flu season peaks.

Flu season eventually ends.

What’s to understand?

Understanding Flu Season

While we see flu activity at epidemic levels every year, some years are clearly much worse than others.

What kind of flu season will we have this year?
What kind of flu season will we have this year?

And while the severity of a flu season is easy to see after it is over, many of us could use a little help making sense of things when we are still in the middle of it.

  • Geographic Spread of Influenza Viruses – when you hear that there is widespread flu activity in a lot of states, this is what they are talking about. The only problem is that this doesn’t really tell you anything about the severity of a flu season. We get widespread flu activity in all states, or almost all states, each and every year as flu season peaks.
  • ILI Activity Indicator Map – like the maps showing the geographic spread of the flu, the ILI activity indicator map can help you tell where flu is spreading, but since it doesn’t necessarily represent the whole state, it can be misleading.
  • Influenza-like Illness Surveillance – the proportion of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness (ILI), or basically, how many people are going to the doctor with flu symptoms. Once we get above the national baseline of 2.2%, we know that flu season is starting in an area. How high can ILI get? Recently, it has peaked between 3.6% (2015-2016) and 7.5% (2017-2018). But that’s nationally. Because of wide variability in regional level data, you might see much higher ILI numbers in your state. For example, the regional baseline in Texas is 4%, while it is just 1.1% in Idaho. Still, widespread flu activity with a high ILI likely means a bad flu season.
  • Flu-Associated Hospitalizations – laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations. Overall, as flu season peaks, this can range from 4 to 5 per 100,000 population in a typical flu season, to 9 or 10 in a more severe flu season. This is also reported by age group. During a bad flu season, flu-associated hospitalizations will be high.
  • Mortality Surveillance – the proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza. At some point in flu season, we get above an epidemic threshold and more people die with the flu, especially during a bad flu season.
  • Pediatric Deaths – pediatric influenza-associated deaths have been a nationally notifiable condition since the 2004 flu season and since then, on average, about 118 kids die with the flu each year. Last season was especially bad, with 185 pediatric flu deaths.

So how do you really know if it is a bad flu season?

Look for a high ILI%, high flu-associated hospitalizations, which will almost certainly be followed by a high mortality surveillance.

You also want to check viral surveillance data. Are the majority of influenza viruses being tested antigenically and genetically similar to the cell-grown reference viruses representing the 2018–2019 Northern Hemisphere influenza vaccine viruses? If not, that could mean a vaccine strain mismatch and a worse flu season.

And don’t be surprised by reports of widespread flu activity or rising ILI. That’s just flu season.

More on Understanding Flu Season

Flu Season Predictions

No, I can’t see into the future…

I predict that I will continue to get a flu shot each year, at least until they come out with a universal flu vaccine.
I predict that I will continue to get a flu shot each year, at least until they come out with a universal flu vaccine.

But some things are very easy to predict.

Flu Season Predictions

Here are some predictions for this year’s flu season.

  1. We will have a flu season epidemic in the United States this year. Surprised by that prediction? Don’t be. Flu activity reaches epidemic levels each and every year. What we don’t always have are flu pandemics, during which flu activity is very high in multiple parts of the world. By definition, flu season is an epidemic.
  2. Almost all states will eventually report having widespread influenza activity as flu season peaks. Again, this is not a bold prediction. It happens every year. How severe is flu season going to be? No one can really predict that, but we can look at the proportion of people seeing their health care provider for influenza-like illness (ILI) and laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalization rates as flu season moves along to get some idea. Remember, measures of the geographic spread of the flu don’t really tell you anything about the severity of flu activity.
  3. Dozens of kids will die with the flu – most of them unvaccinated. Remember, 37 kids died in the mildest flu season we had.
  4. A little under half of adults will get a flu vaccine, even though the current recommendation is that everyone who is at least six months old without a true contraindication get vaccinated each year.
  5. A little over half of parents will get their kids a flu vaccine.
  6. Some people who get a flu vaccine will still get the flu. You know the flu vaccine isn’t the most effective, but it still has plenty of other benefits, so even if you did still get the flu, hopefully you got a milder case, weren’t hospitalized, and didn’t die.
  7. Some people who get a flu vaccine and get the flu will blame their flu shot, even though it is well known that the flu shot can’t give you the flu.
  8. Many people who aren’t high risk will be prescribed Tamiflu. Or Xofluza, because it is new.
  9. Tens of thousands of adults will die with the flu. Even in a mild flu season, the flu is very deadly.
  10. Some folks will continue to push the idea that there is a vaginal spermicide in flu shots, even though that anti-vaccine talking point has been refuted a thousand times already.

What else can you predict about flu season?

Some folks will think it is too late to get a flu shot.

It isn’t.

Get your flu shot if you haven’t and get protected for the rest of flu season.

Another bold prediction? Elderberry syrup and Oscillococcinum are not going to help prevent or treat your flu symptoms.

More Flu Season Predictions

What Are the Side Effects of the Flu Vaccine?

Like other vaccines, flu vaccines can have side effects.

Fortunately, most of those side effects are mild.

What Are the Side Effects of the Flu Vaccine?

Not surprisingly, a lot of things that get blamed as being caused by flu vaccines are not actually side effects.

Did you actually get the flu in the days or weeks after your flu vaccine?

That’s not a side effect of your flu vaccine. Neither the inactivated flu shot, nor the attenuated FluMist can actually cause a flu infection.

Did you get a little sore at the site where you got your flu shot?

That’s a common side effect to getting a flu shot.

So is having some redness and swelling at the site, all of which begin soon after getting the shot and go away in a few days. You can also get a headache, fever, nausea, and muscle aches or signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Do you have a runny nose or a cough? Side effects of the nasal spray flu vaccine can include a few days of runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, fever, sore throat and cough.

Again, a bad cough and cold after a flu shot isn’t a side effect of the vaccine though.

Remember, correlation does not imply causation.

If you found out you were pregnant shortly after getting a flu shot, you wouldn’t think they were associated, would you?

What about narcolepsy?

“An increased risk of narcolepsy was found following vaccination with Pandemrix, a monovalent 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine that was used in several European countries during the H1N1 influenza pandemic.”

Narcolepsy Following Pandemrix Influenza Vaccination in Europe

Although the focus has been on the Pandemrix flu vaccine as a trigger for narcolepsy in some countries (the vaccine wasn’t used in the United States), interestingly, several countries that weren’t using the vaccine also saw a spike in narcolepsy cases as the 2009 H1N1 pandemic hit.

Doctors and pharmacies rarely give away flu shots for free. They might not charge a copay sometimes because they are getting paid by your insurance company!
Doctors and pharmacies rarely give away flu shots for free. They might not charge a copay sometimes because they are getting paid by your insurance company!

What about all of the reports of severe reactions and deaths after getting a flu shot that you might hear about? In addition to vaccine injury stories, those reports are to VAERS and typically are not causally related to getting a vaccine.

Why are there so many reports to VAERS and the NVICP about flu vaccines? Since 2006, over 1.6 trillion doses of flu vaccine have been distributed in the United States, which equals about the total of all other vaccines we use.

What Are the Side Effects of This Year’s Flu Shot

Even when folks understand that flu vaccines don’t typically cause serious side effects, the question always comes up whether or not this year’s flu shot is causing more side effects than usual.

That’s actually not unreasonable, even when you consider that the biggest change in most flu vaccines from year to year is the strain of flu viruses they include, and not any of the other ingredients.

In addition to the Pandemrix flu vaccine, in 2010, the use of one brand of flu vaccines in Australia was suspended because they were causing more side effects (fever and febrile seizures) in young children than expected.

“The studies flesh out preliminary findings from CSL in June 2012, which said that the manufacturing process retained more virus component than that of other manufacturers and that the 2010 virus components triggered an excessive immune response in some young kids.”

CSL studies shed light on 2010 flu vaccine seizures

So are there any more side effects this year?

No, there is no evidence of increased side effects from this year’s flu vaccines

More on Flu Vaccine Side Effects

Ellen Degeneres on Vaccines

Is Ellen Degeneres anti-vaccine?

Ellen Degeneres paid tribute to her dad, who recently died.
Ellen and her dad.

No, but in paying tribute to her father, who died in 2018, some folks may have gotten that idea.

“He was 92 years old.  He had a good, long life. And he lived his life exactly how he wanted. He was Christian Science his entire life. He never had medicine his whole life. He never went to a doctor. I never had a vaccination. We never had medicine growing up and he lived to be 92. He was very proud of me.”

Ellen

Although Ellen did not get vaccines growing up, she is no longer a Christian Scientist and she is not anti-vaccine.

Ellen helps make sure all of her staff get flu shots each year!
Ellen helps make sure all of her staff get flu shots each year!

She even encourages folks to get a flu vaccine each year!

I want to make sure everyone stays healthy, so I put together a little message:

Flu season is here and it’s not to late to get a flu shot. They’re safe, easy, and they’re not scary at all.

Ellen

That doesn’t sound like someone who is anti-vaccine, does it?

Ellen Degeneres on Vaccines