The CDC recently issued an interim report on the 2018-19 flu vaccine effectiveness. Usually, after these reports, there are all kinds of consternation from everyone with a stake in the seasonal flu vaccine.
Vaccine effectiveness is an important measurement to determine how many individuals who are vaccinated against the flu are actually protected from the infection by the vaccine. Despite the wild pseudoscientific claims about various flu treatments, the best preventive tool against influenza and influenza-related diseases, complications, and deaths are flu vaccines.
I’ll keep this short and sweet, something rare on this blog. During the week ending 3 February 2018, the CDC reported that there were over 4000 flu deaths in the USA (see Note 1). Yes, you read that right, the US flu death toll was over 4000, many of which might have been prevented by the flu vaccine.
According to the CDC, 10.1% of 40,414 deaths reported in the USA during that week were attributed to the flu or side effects of that flu. And the news will get worse over the next few weeks. The flu death toll is expected to grow even more because flu activity is still rising, and deaths usually follow flu activity.
We have just passed the halfway point of the 2017-18 flu season, and if you are watching the news, you could get the impression that things are pretty bad. CDC reports that for this week, the cumulative hospitalization rate was 51.4 per 100,000, which is higher than the 43.5 per 100,000 reported at this same week during the 2014-2015 season. If that trend continues through the season, the number of influenza hospitalizations may exceed 710,000.
Furthermore, the CDC provided evidence of how bad this flu season actually is:
Last week, the number of people even in the clinic that had influenza-like illness was 6.6%. This week it is 7.1%. We’ve had two seasons in the last 15 years that were higher than that. The first was the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, which peaked at 7.8% and the 2003-2004 season, which was a high severity H3N2 season, which peaked at 7.6%.
Furthermore, at least 53 children, under the age of 18, have died of influenza or complications of the virus. And because reporting lags by a few weeks, the numbers are undoubtedly going to be higher. These are all families that have to deal with a tragic loss of a child from a disease that many anti-vaccine people classify as “not dangerous.”
We will get into the details further in this post, but I do not want to bury the headline. This does not mean the 2017-18 flu vaccine is ineffective – the quadrivalent 2017 flu vaccine effectiveness against three of four flu strains is still fairly high. The flu vaccine is extremely important in stop lots of flu strains, and just because it may have an issue with one of the four strains, does not imply that it is useless.
As I mentioned previously, I got the flu vaccine a few days ago. As of today, I do not have a fever, febrile seizures, Epstein-Barr, a reptilian tail growing out of my back, sudden desire to eat durians, or abrupt inclination to watch English Premier League soccer.
But I know I am protected against the flu, and that’s a good thing. I haven’t had the flu since the 1980s, not because I am a superior human being with the most powerful immune system in the world. It’s because I make sure I’m vaccinated against the disease every single year.
Part of the reason I got the flu jab was because my employers demanded it. They needed me healthy when I passed out bribes to physicians and surgeons–oops, I mean when I was visiting top physicians and surgeons to plan clinical trials.
Of course, my employers demanded I wear lead aprons when training physicians on imaging and diagnostic procedures in cardiac cath labs, so maybe they actually cared about me.
This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an interim report on the effectiveness of this season’s flu vaccine in the United States. Because these reports will be cherry picked for data by vaccine denialists (and may cause vaccine supporters to worry about their support of this particular vaccine), I want to look at the data carefully, and make sure we understand what is exactly reported.
The CDC is reporting that influenza activity continues to increase in the United States and most of the country is now observing high levels of influenza-like-illness (ILI). ILI reports are approaching levels that usually seen during moderately severe flu seasons. Of course, the CDC continues to recommend vaccinations for the flu, and antiviral treatment if appropriate.
According to Dr. Joe Bresee, Chief of the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch in CDC’s Influenza Division, “While we can’t say for certain how severe this season will be, we can say that a lot of people are getting sick with influenza and we are getting reports of severe illness and hospitalizations. Anyone who has not already been vaccinated should do so now. And it’s important to remember that people who have severe influenza illness, or who are at high risk of serious influenza-related complications, should get treated with influenza antiviral medications if they get flu symptoms regardless of whether or not they got vaccinated. Also, you don’t need to wait for a positive laboratory test to start taking antivirals.” Continue reading “The 2012-13 flu season getting deadlier”
If you have any reluctance about having your children receive their annual flu vaccination, look at the chart below:
Children die from the flu virus–282 innocent children died from the flu in 2009-10, 122 in 2010-11, 34 in 2011-12. So far this flu season, 6 children have died. The number varies from highs during pandemic years, such as in 2009-10, and lower in non-pandemic years.
The CDC predicts that 2012-13 could be serious, and the current flu vaccine protects against 3 subtypes of the seasonal flu in North America: