Wednesday, January 21, 2015

KU Hospital chief says flu vaccine not perfect but still valuable

KHI News Service

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this year’s flu vaccine can reduce your chances of having to see a doctor — but only by 23 percent.

The vaccine isn’t an ideal match for the flu strain that’s causing the most problems this year.

That’s because one strain of the virus “drifted,” or mutated, after the vaccine had been finalized. But Dr. Lee Norman, chief medical officer of the University of Kansas Hospital, said it’s still a good idea to get vaccinated if you haven’t done so already.

“If somebody came up to you and said, ‘I can give you something that’s safe and effective and inexpensive, and it’ll reduce your cancer risk by 23 percent,’ you’d snap it up,” he said. “A 23 percent reduction in the risk of getting influenza is a terrific benefit, so, yes, still get the vaccine.”

Norman said vaccine effectiveness has ranged from 10 percent to 60 percent over the past 10 years.

While this season's 23 percent is a lower rate of effectiveness, he said the vaccine still has benefits, even for those who become infected after getting a flu shot.

“If you get the vaccine, and get the influenza, you’re less likely to be as sick as if you didn’t get the vaccine at all. There’s some cross-benefit, even if it doesn’t completely prevent the infection,” Norman said.

Meanwhile, the CDC said antiviral medications can reduce the severity of the illness, so anyone with flu symptoms should see a doctor.

“Physicians should be aware that all hospitalized patients and all outpatients at high risk for serious complications should be treated as soon as possible with one of three available influenza antiviral medications if influenza is suspected, regardless of a patient’s vaccination status and without waiting for confirmatory testing,” said Joe Bresee, branch chief in CDC’s Influenza Division. “Health care providers should advise patients at high risk to call promptly if they get symptoms of influenza.”

While manufacturers of antiviral medications have said there is sufficient product available to meet high demand nationally, there are anecdotal reports of spot shortages of these drugs.

CDC officials said patients and doctors may need to contact more than one pharmacy to fill a prescription for an antiviral medication.