Today, children across the country are returning to school from their winter breaks, and in New York City, those children in all city regulated preschools and child care centers who are between the ages of 6 months and 5 years will have gotten the flu vaccine. This move comes just in time, as the CDC s FluView Report found that influenza activity in the United States has reached an epidemic level, with incidence almost as high as the peak level seen during the 2012-2013 season.
During the week ending on December 27th, Puerto Rico and 29 states have reported high influenza-like illness activity. According to the Influenza Hospitalization Surveillance Network, there have been about 3400 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations reported since October 1st, with about 96 percent of those cases associated with influenza A. Pneumonia and Influenza accounted for 6.8 percent of all deaths according to the Cities Mortality Reporting System and so far 21 influenza-associated pediatric deaths have been reported.
According to the CDC, Flu activity is expected to continue in the coming weeks, with increases occurring especially in those states that have not yet had significant activity. CDC continues to recommend vaccination as long as flu viruses are circulating.
However, the anti-vaxxers are now using the argument that this year s flu vaccine may not be a great match for the majority of the strains circulating to deter individuals from getting the flu vaccine as well as to deter them from getting vaccines in general. The reason why the vaccine is not a good match for the circulating strains this year is twofold, something ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom discussed previously. First, the decision of what strains to cover is made by the WHO six months before the start of flu season, and is an educated guess based partially on what circulating at that time. Second, even when the right strain is selected, flu mutates rapidly (and unpredictably). and the resulting variants may be too different for the vaccine to cover.
And according to infectious-disease specialist Dr. Kent Sepkowitz, this is the problem: the anti-vax crowd waits for this sort of mess to pounce, as if the biologic unpredictability of a living virus is enough to make their point. Their point of course is a slippery one: One day it is poor vaccine efficacy; another it s not efficacy at all but toxicity or side effects such as autism that make the argument against shots; or lastly, the most absurd and therefore best embraced, the argument is that catching the real infection is somehow more natural and health-making and therefore better for the kid who is sick.
The fact still remains that even though the vaccine may not be terribly effective in preventing the flu, it can still reduce the risk of hospitalizations and deaths as a result of the flu. And as ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross has said before, This vaccine offers by far the best protection one can get from the flu. Furthermore, there is no downside to getting the flu vaccine. A reduced average risk of 60 percent is nothing to ignore.