The drumbeat has begun. Americans are being urged to line up early for flu shots. The message is that if people act fast to get vaccinated now they will be protected from influenza when it becomes widespread this winter.

This year there are more choices than ever. There are all sorts of shots, including high-tech varieties that are made in cell cultures instead of incubated in eggs. You can get a vaccine sprayed up your nose if you don’t like shots. “Quadrivalent” vaccines protect against four different strains of flu.

Most people assume that if they get vaccinated they won’t come down with influenza. That is certainly the hype, but the statistics tell a different story.

Last year’s flu vaccine was an especially good match for the influenza viruses that were circulating during the epidemic. Experts had anticipated correctly which strains would predominate and there was a 92 percent match with what actually showed up. In theory, this should have provided superb protection.

In reality, however, when the CDC did its post-season analysis, it found that the vaccine was only about 27 percent effective for people over 65. This is a high-risk group that is more vulnerable to flu complications such as pneumonia.

Worse, the most virulent form of the flu last year, H3N2, was hardly deterred by vaccination. Only 9 percent of vaccinated older people were protected from this bug.

We heard from one reader:I had the flu shot this year as usual, but I got the flu anyway. I am 73 and have heart failure and kidney disease. I had fever, aches, headache, sore throat, congestion and cough plus my eyes hurt so badly I could hardly look at light. I was incredibly sleepy and napped morning and afternoon plus went to bed early and slept till 8 in the morning. Most atypical for me.

“I thought at first it was a cold and by the time I realized it was flu, I was too sick to go to the doctor for antiviral medicine. The worst is over after 10 days, but I’m not well yet.”

Even younger folks aren’t necessarily protected by getting their shot. Another reader reported: “I got the flu shot, as I do every year. And although I have not been to the doctor, I am pretty sure I have the flu. I went from feeling fine to feeling like a bus had mowed me down in about 8 hours. I started medicating myself when my fever hit 102.

“I have had fever for three days so far, along with a dry, painful cough, general achiness, wooziness and exhaustion. I am an otherwise healthy 45-year-old woman. My husband and 4-year-old son have also had this illness (though they too got the flu shot).”

We hope this year’s vaccination will be more effective than last year’s, but public health officials need to be honest about how well this preventive measure works. Even in good years, the shots fail to protect many of the most susceptible individuals, particularly the very young, the elderly and those with diminished immune response.

We also need better data about adverse reactions. In an effort to encourage everyone to get a flu shot, public health experts have not wanted to dampen enthusiasm. Studies of flu shot side effects have been neglected. The public deserves better research on both the benefits and risks of influenza vaccination so people can make more informed decisions.

 

 

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  1. jww
    Reply

    My VA doctor wanted to put me on statins and I told him they caused pain and memory loss. My total cholesterol is 240, then I told him that I did not believe that cholesterol caused heart attacks. Last week I got a letter from the VA stating that he was no longer my doctor. I have not been assigned another doctor by the VA. Does this mean my doctor patient relationship has ended.

  2. NWG
    Reply

    My neighbor took the double flu shot and got very sick. I am 76 and wonder if I should get the double flu shot. I am a little hesitant. What is in the double flu shot that isn’t in the regular flu shot?
    People’s Pharmacy response: The difference is in the dose. The one you call “double” is a high-dose inoculation.

  3. JBG
    Reply

    Karen, the CDC website reached by following the link about 9% above:
    http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm#effectivemeasured
    says,
    “…a [vaccine effectiveness] point estimate of [X]% means that the flu vaccine reduces a person’s risk of developing flu illness that results in a visit to the doctor’s office or urgent care provider by [X]%.”

  4. JKC
    Reply

    I would like to know what they base these statistics on? Most people with the flu just suffer at home, not show up in the hospital. How do they know just how many people get the flu, whether they had shots or not? Many people also just get a cold, and call it the flu, for sympathy, or more time off work. I know no one has ever surveyed me or anyone I know. Seriously, where do these statistics come from?

  5. Karen
    Reply

    Again, you have not provided sufficient information to evaluate the numbers in your story. More than one of us asked for this information in last week’s excerpt.
    What does 27% effective MEAN to ME? Days off work? Number of people protected? I can’t use this information in any way to make a decision.

  6. Donnie
    Reply

    I can’t take flu shots because I’ve had severe reactions after getting them. A few years ago, I went to my doctor because I needed her to write a new prescription for my thyroid meds. There was a patient coughing her head off in the waiting room. Then the rescue squad and ambulance arrived, loaded the woman up and took her to the hospital emergency. The woman had the flu, and was spewing the germs all over the waiting room.
    Needless to say, I caught the flu. Boy, was I sick. I don’t catch colds or flu, but I did that time. Still won’t get the shots, though.

  7. jn
    Reply

    Should the over 65 folks have the double strength “flu” shot??

  8. CRL
    Reply

    The flu shots can only be effective for some of the strains; the scientest developing the shots each year have to “guess” which strains will be most prevalent and include those. Self preservation is your best defense:
    1-Carry disinfectant wipes in your car and keep some at your office. Clean your hands when you have touched bathroom door handles and entryway knobs that many others touch if you can’t clean them yourself (not appropriate when visiting someone else’s office).
    2-the minute you feel that “tickle” in your throat, start taking Eldeberry capsules – unlike other herbal remedies like Echinacea which is more antibacterial, Eldeberry is anti-viral. When that first sneeze or nose drip starts, begin also taking Golden Seal which will help with nasal discomfort and wetness. Eldeberry also comes in a syrup when the first cough appears… better to use something that is actually helping fight it, than just a commercial cough suppressant. The Echinacea is good before you get the flu in immune health.
    The trick is to not get the flu in the first place by being vigilant during flu season about what you touch and keeping your hands clean. But if you still feel symptoms coming on, don’t do as most do and ignore the beginning symptoms thinking they will go away. They will only get worse and herbal remedies work best if taken at the very first indication!
    Also keeping one’s immune system strong by eating healthy and getting plenty of Vitamins C & D will help prevent. Then pray the scientist got it right this year in their predictions as to which strains would be prevalent.

  9. Carolyn Kay
    Reply

    There’s a high-dose version of the flu vaccine for seniors, which may be more effective (http://1.usa.gov/18nXWWk)

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