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Will the Flu Shot Protect You from Influenza This Year?

It is not clear if the flu shot will protect you from infection this year. Its performance in Australia was unimpressive, to say the least.

Have you been vaccinated against the flu this year? Will the flu shot protect you from getting influenza? We won’t be able to answer that question for several months. That’s because it takes the CDC a long time to collect the data on vaccine effectiveness.

Even when there is a good match between the shot and the circulating strains of influenza, the vaccine is only about 40 percent effective on average. This year, though, it may not be even that good.

Will Doctors Be Disappointed in This Year’s Flu Shot?

A perspective published in The New England Journal of Medicine reports that the past flu season in Australia resulted in more hospitalizations and deaths than normal (Paules et al, NEJM, Nov. 29, 2017). The Southern Hemisphere is usually six months ahead in their flu season, so Australia has just finished its season of influenza infections. A preliminary analysis of vaccine effectiveness using Australian data estimates it at about 10% against H3N2. That is the predominant strain of type A flu this year. The authors note that our vaccine for the coming flu season is the same as the one that was used in Australia.

Should There Be a Universal Flu Vaccine?

According to The New England Journal of Medicine Perspective, vaccine makers have trouble matching the flu shot to the ever-changing influenza strains each year. The authors call for the development of a universal flu vaccine that would transform protection against influenza. We are still a long way from that, unfortunately.

In the meantime, the Perspective maintains, “However imperfect, though, current influenza vaccines remain a valuable public health tool, and it is always better to get vaccinated than not to get vaccinated.” This year, it seems reasonable to ask, will the flu shot protect you from catching influenza?

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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