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This Year's Flu Shot Less Than 50% Effective in Preventing Infection, CDC Says

Don't let your guard down: The US flu season is expected to continue for several more weeks, with activity across the nation now elevated, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday.

Posted: Feb 14, 2019 11:55 AM
Updated: Feb 14, 2019 11:58 AM

Don't let your guard down: The US flu season is expected to continue for several more weeks, with activity across the nation now elevated, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday. A flu shot is still recommended for those who have neglected to get one, but the CDC estimated this year's vaccine's overall effectiveness in preventing an infection at just 47%.

The shot's success varies based on your age, the CDC noted. Among children up to 17, its overall effectiveness against flu was 61%, while just 24% of adults 50 and older who received the shot gained protection against infection.

Studies show that vaccination reduces the risk of influenza-related deaths in children; 80% of the children in the United States who died from flu last season were unvaccinated. Additionally, the shot "prevents a substantial number of influenza-related illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths annually," noted the authors of the new CDC report.

Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the nonprofit National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, said that those who get flu after receiving vaccine are less likely to require hospitalization and are less likely to die of the illness.

"The vaccine is not perfect," Schaffner said. "But give the vaccine credit for softening the blow."

The virus' severity this season compared with last has been low, with a smaller percentage of doctor's office visits, lower rates of hospitalization and fewer deaths through February 2, the CDC reports. The official start of the season was September 30; activity remained low during October and November, increased in late December and then remained elevated through early February.

Twenty-eight children have died of flu-related complications this season as of February 2, the CDC noted.

"Fingers crossed that we're now heading toward the bottom part of the season," said Richard Webby, a flu scientist and adviser to the World Health Organization on recommendations for the composition of flu vaccines. "Overall, it's been a relatively mild season, and compared to last year, it's a bit of a welcome reprieve."

The reason for that is that milder H1N1 strains of the influenza virus have dominated in most of the country, with H3N2, a strain that causes more severe illness that ran rampant last winter, predominating in southeastern areas.

In recent weeks, though, the proportion of illness due to H3N2 has grown in several regions.

Last winter was the deadliest US flu season in more than four decades. An estimated 80,000 Americans, including 180 children, died of flu and its complications, the CDC reported. Additionally, the nation experienced an estimated 900,000 hospitalizations, a record, during the last season.

Overall, the effectiveness of the seasonal flu vaccine for last season was estimated to be 40%. This means the vaccine reduced a person's risk of having to seek medical care by 40%, the CDC found. Yet, among children, the shot was estimated to be 59% effective.

Despite the fact that the strains circulating this winter are aligned with the viruses used to make the vaccine, the manufacturing process tends to cause slight changes that create a mismatch, Webby explained. This season's flu shot is "clearly not where we want it to be, but it has been superior overall than the past few seasons," he said.

The CDC also recommends antiviral medication for people "with confirmed or suspected influenza who have severe, complicated, or progressive illness; who require hospitalization; or who are at high risk for influenza complications."

In October, the US Food and Drug Administration approved a new antiviral, baloxavir marboxil or Xofluza, a single-dose oral prescription drug. The pill is intended for patients 12 or older who have had symptoms for no more than 48 hours.

The antiviral is the first flu treatment approved by the FDA in nearly 20 years. During past seasons, Tamiflu has been the antiviral medication prescribed for many people.

When patients with the flu are treated within 48 hours of becoming sick, antiviral drugs can reduce symptoms and duration of illness, according to the FDA. There are side effects for both drugs, including diarrhea, bronchitis, headache and nausea for Xofluza and nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and headache for Tamiflu.

Finally, the CDC recommends practicing common-sense methods of preventing the spread of flu. Wash your hands thoroughly, and avoid close contact with those who are sick. If you feel yourself becoming sick, remember to cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and if you are sick, stay home if possible.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 174501

Reported Deaths: 2460
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah34800568
Washington23412229
Marion20116299
Clackamas15311204
Lane11554144
Jackson9904127
Umatilla796883
Deschutes708272
Linn414263
Yamhill408775
Klamath345259
Polk342952
Malheur342758
Josephine305462
Douglas304365
Benton273218
Jefferson206432
Coos196831
Columbia153826
Union141124
Lincoln129820
Wasco128928
Hood River112429
Morrow107915
Clatsop8918
Crook87819
Baker85614
Curry5939
Tillamook5803
Lake4137
Grant4064
Harney3056
Wallowa1575
Sherman570
Gilliam561
Wheeler251
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 3716579

Reported Deaths: 60994
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles122864123628
Riverside2972154525
San Bernardino2945774550
San Diego2748113674
Orange2688694891
Santa Clara1169712013
Kern1078251322
Sacramento1010581646
Fresno1005001643
Alameda852561477
Ventura802301000
San Joaquin714311334
Contra Costa66927782
Stanislaus603831028
Tulare49383830
Monterey43267357
San Mateo41107560
San Francisco35993517
Santa Barbara33863446
Solano31875239
Merced31196452
Sonoma29679311
Imperial27962719
Kings22766245
Placer21751283
San Luis Obispo20917256
Madera16250239
Santa Cruz15554204
Marin13860226
Yolo13559199
Shasta11677217
Butte11549196
El Dorado9719109
Napa965479
Sutter9268109
Yuba609844
San Benito598263
Lassen566924
Tehama543056
Nevada444775
Tuolumne406664
Mendocino398747
Amador362151
Humboldt358737
Lake340643
Glenn235525
Colusa219816
Calaveras205551
Siskiyou194021
Inyo141738
Del Norte12747
Mono12734
Plumas6906
Modoc4884
Mariposa4247
Trinity3985
Sierra1100
Alpine880
Unassigned330
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