This winter’s U.S. flu season hasn’t been and won’t be anywhere near as devastating as the historic season that killed 80,000 Americans last year. That might make latecomers eager to brush aside the idea of getting a flu vaccine. But a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should hopefully convince you otherwise: It turns out this year’s shot is almost twice as effective as last year’s at preventing the flu.
The report was published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. It provides an early estimate of the 2018-2019 flu vaccine’s effectiveness, based on data from thousands of real-life patients who visited a doctor’s office.
According to the report, the vaccine is overall 47 percent effective against all of the flu strains circulating this year; for kids between the ages of 6 months to 17 years, it’s actually 61 percent effective. It was deemed to be only 8 percent effective for adults over age 50, but the authors said this estimate could be off because of the low number of older patients in their sample.
These might not seem like huge numbers, but the influenza virus is notoriously hard to vaccinate against, since it can mutate rapidly. And on average, the current vaccine is about as effective (though on the low end) as any other year’s shot would be against similar strains. Moreover, it’s much more robust than the vaccine last year, which was only 25 percent effective against the leading, more potent H3N2 strain that season.
Still, the meager success of last year’s shot showcases why it’s so important to get vaccinated, even during years when the shot is less effective. According to research cited by the authors, the 2017-2018 vaccine prevented 7.1 million cases of flu, 3.7 million visits to doctors, 109,000 hospitalizations, and 8,000 deaths. And it could have done even better, had more than 37 percent of adults and 58 percent of kids gotten the vaccine.
So far, estimates of vaccination coverage are projected to be higher than they were last year, which is great. If you haven’t been bothered enough to get the vaccine yet, it’s not too late! The authors said that doctors should continue to offer the vaccine because the flu season is still ongoing and there might be other flu strains that circulate later in the season. And this year, you can even avoid a painful shot, since the nasal spray version of the vaccine is once again recommended for all ages.
Just remember, it’ll take about two weeks for the protection of the vaccine to fully kick in. So if you end up getting the sniffles before then, don’t blame the vaccine (it can’t give you the flu, though it can have some, almost always mild, side effects). Just get vaccinated already.