The 2017-18 influenza season has been a serious one, with influenza cases widespread across the continental United States since late December 2017. While the flu season shows signs that activity is leveling off instead of increasing, many people are wondering why this season has been so bad compared to previous years. According to epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, part of the reason may be due to the fact that the vaccine was less effective than expected.
H3N2 is the dominant strain of influenza going around this season, and the vaccine is only 25 percent effective against that strain of the virus. Still, getting the vaccine is thought to lessen the severity of influenza in a person who does become infected. The vaccine may also shorten the duration of the illness by helping the body to create antibodies against the virus.
The vaccine is quadrivalent, which means that it provides protection against four types of circulating influenza viruses. It includes both influenza A and influenza B protection. Overall, the vaccine administered during the 2017-18 influenza season is 36 percent effective against the four primary circulating strains of the virus. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar likened the influenza vaccine to wearing a seat belt. It lessens the impact and duration of illness, much like a seat belt lessens the impact of an automobile crash.
Children are one of the groups most at risk of influenza complications, and the influenza vaccine is especially helpful to them. Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Jerome Adams, urged parents to get their children vaccinated against influenza each year. Research on this year’s influenza vaccine shows that children who received the shot were 59 percent less likely to become sick with the flu.
While many urban legends circulate about the flu vaccine, it has been proven to be safe. It is not associated with autism, and it is the best defense against severe influenza illness. At least 63 children have died of influenza infections during the 2017-18 season, and more than 75 percent of them were not vaccinated against the disease. Doctors also urge people to stay home when they have symptoms of influenza, with the exception of going to get medical treatment. Cough and sneeze hygiene is also important, and doctors recommend coughing or sneezing into the bend of the elbow in order to avoid spreading the influenza virus.