‘This flu season is not mild’: Public health directors urge Americans to get vaccinated as data show 19,000 people have been killed by the virus
- Last year, the H3N2 flu strain ravaged the US, killing 80,000 people – more than died in the entire Vietnam War
- This year, it is a milder strain with fewer infections and deaths
- But new data show 19,000 people have died so far, and today health officials said they do not see it as ‘mild’
- They urged people to get the flu shot even though it is just 47% effective
- It is unlikely we will have a universal flu vaccine within 5 years, despite Congress pledging $1 billion towards that goal
This flu season is far from mild, with 19,000 deaths already recorded this season, public health officials warned today.
There is less panic this year than last, when an aggressive strain killed 80,000 people – more than were killed in the entire Vietnam War – and the vaccine proved to be just 30 percent effective.
But experts fear a sense of ease will cause a drop in people getting the flu shot, which they warn is already having dire consequences.
‘This year there have been 19,000 deaths due to influenza, and most of us wouldn’t consider that to be mild,’ Dr Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s center for immunization and respiratory diseases, said at the world’s biggest science conference on Saturday.
This year’s flu shot is 47 percent effective against the dominant strain, according to new data released this week. But officials say that is no reason not to get it
On Saturday, Dr Messonnier and other leaders in the field raised the alarm, saying the flu is ‘much harder to prevent than measles’ but insisted that even the least effective vaccines save lives.
‘Last year’s vaccine prevented seven million illnesses, four million doctor visits, 10,000 hospitalizations, and 8,000 deaths,’ Dr Messonnier said.
This year’s flu shot is 47 percent effective against the dominant strain, according to new data released this week.
But that is no reason to skip it, said Dr Anthony Fauci, head of infectious diseases at the NIH.
‘I want to say this very clearly: it’s important to get vaccinated, even if the stated vaccine is 30 or 40 percent effective. It is always better to get vaccinated than not,’ Dr Fauci said.
When it comes to viral infections and diseases, the flu vaccine is one of the most complicated – even compared to something like Ebola.
The Ebola virus has not changed since NIH researchers first examined Ebola survivors from Kikwit in 1995. It means there have been no mutations in the virus that would threaten ongoing efforts to build a vaccine – even as the virus resurges in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Measles is another virus that we have cracked, Dr Fauci said, in a thinly-veiled dig at the anti-vaccination movement driving an outbreak in the US.
‘The measles vaccine is a one-and-done,’ he said. ‘We need a measles-like vaccine for influenza.’
When it comes to the flu vaccine, ‘pandemics occur, and we are always behind the 8-ball when they happen,’ Dr Fauci said, including last year’s season, which was ‘off the charts.’