The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released reports that detailed adult flu vaccine coverage and the mortality rate from the flu virus. Neither is very reassuring.
According to the first report, only 37.1% of adults, 18 or older, received the adult flu vaccine during the 2017-18 flu season. This was a drop of 6.2 percentage points from the 2016-17, and it was the lowest vaccination rate for adults since 2010-11.
In another report about the 2017-18 flu season, the CDC determine that more people were killed by seasonal influenza since the CDC first started tracking flu mortality in 1976-77 – the data shows a scary indictment of flu vaccine refusal. The CDC reported that:
- 49 million people contracted the flu, which is roughly equivalent to the combined population of Texas and Florida.
- 960,000 people were hospitalized. That is more than the estimated 895,000 hospital beds currently available in the USA (and one of the major reasons why I believe any major outbreak of vaccine-preventable diseases could be a disaster).
- 79,000 people died of the influenza virus. The previous high, over the past 40 years of analyses, was 51,000 deaths in 2014-15.
The 2017-18 flu season was particularly harsh because it dominated by a the H3N2 subtype of the influenza A virus. This subtype mutates more frequently than other subtypes, so the 2017-18 seasonal adult flu vaccine was somewhat less effective than in previous seasons.
Although the anti-vaccine tropes wanted us to believe that the vaccine was worthless, it actually was about 25% effective against the H3N2 variant, with a much higher effectiveness for children. This may have contributed to the drop in adult flu vaccine coverage last year, which probably contributed to the severity of last season’s flu burden.
We don’t know what the 2018-19 flu vaccine effectiveness is, but there is a concern about the current production methods for the H3N2 virus may need to be revised to substantially improve effectiveness. That being said, given the mortality rate of the flu, even a 25-30% effectiveness substantially reduces your risk of severe flu complications.
Here are a few points about the flu and adult flu vaccine that bear repeating:
- If you are a healthcare worker and refuse the flu vaccine, you are an epic dumbass. Protecting patients from your infectious diseases is paramount, and pseudoscientific beliefs about medicines, like vaccines, are a good reason to find another career path.
- If you think that the adult flu vaccine causes the flu, you’d be wrong.
- If you think that the flu is a minor disease, maybe you should read this article again. Almost 1 million people were hospitalized in 2017-18, which means expensive hospital bills, lost work productivity, and other issues. And, 79,000 people died.
- If you conflate a common cold with the flu, you need stop. Although they have some overlapping symptoms, colds rarely have serious complications, while the flu is much worse.
- If you think that old people and babies are the only ones at risk from flu complications, you ignore the fact that nearly 1,000 people, 18-49, died of the flu last year. Yes, most of the deaths were among young children and seniors, but think of it another way – getting the flu vaccine may help reduce the risk of passing along the flu to grandma or your little niece.
- If you believe in any of the other tropes and myths about the flu vaccine, stop now. They are all wrong.
- If you believe you are allergic to eggs and can’t get the adult flu vaccine, that’s not true any more.
- If you think that supplements will protect you against the flu, you’d be wrong.
- If you believe that the adult flu vaccine is useless, once again, you’re reading garbage on the internet. The current flu vaccines protect against three or four strains of the flu. The trivalent vaccine protects against the H1N1 influenza A virus, H3N2, and one strain of influenza B. The quadrivalent version protects against those plus another strain of influenza B. The major issue with effectiveness is against only the H3N2 strain, and even there, the effectiveness exceeds 25%. Against all flu strains, the quadrivalent adult flu vaccine was around 40%. It’s not perfect, but only if you fall for the Nirvana fallacy does it mean it’s worthless.
Too many Americans refuse to get the adult flu vaccine out of ignorance, laziness, or some other nonsensical reason. But despite the irrational claims of too many vaccine deniers, the flu is a dangerous, deadly disease.
Get the flu vaccine.
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