The flu vaccine seems to match the circulating strains very well, the CDC says

The flu vaccine seems to match the circulating strains very well, the CDC says


This year’s flu vaccine appears to be “very well matched” to the circulating strains, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a press briefing on Monday. However, she noted that flu vaccinations are lagging behind the pace of previous years.

By the end of October, CDC data shows that vaccinations for pregnant women, a group more vulnerable to severe illness caused by influenza, fell by around 12% compared to the same period in 2021.

Vaccination rates for the elderly, the age group most likely to be hospitalized for the flu, have fallen by about 3 percentage points since October 2021.

Flu vaccinations for children are down about 5% compared to before the Covid-19 pandemic, Walensky said.

In a typical year, about 60% of American adults get the flu shot.

Flu season has started early and in earnest in the US, with hospitalization rates reaching levels not usually seen until December or January.

“We, of course, look in real time at how well we think the flu matches what’s currently circulating. The good news is that it seems to be coming together very well,” Walensky said of the early start to the respiratory virus season.

She noted that the CDC will have more definitive data later in the season, but that the data is encouraging.

Walensky said that even when the vaccine doesn’t match the circulating flu strains, “We’re seeing a 35% reduction in hospitalization rates … which really just highlights, when we have a good match, how much more effective it will be. ”

CDC data shows that nearly 20,000 people in the United States were admitted to the hospital for the flu during Thanksgiving week, nearly double the number of admissions from the week before.

The number of hospitalizations due to Covid-19 also increased, rising 27% in the week after Thanksgiving. But Covid-19 is no longer the only hospital burdened by the virus.

Only 5% of the US population lives in an area considered to have a high community level of Covid-19.

Walensky said Monday that the CDC is “actively considering” expanding the community level beyond Covid-19 to include the effects of other viruses, such as the flu.

“In the meantime, what I’m trying to say is don’t wait for CDC action to put on a mask,” she said.

People who are sick should stay home and away from others, practice good hygiene such as covering coughs and washing hands frequently, use a high-quality mask and improve indoor ventilation, Walensky said.

If you do get sick, it’s important to get tested, even if you’ve been vaccinated, said Dr. Sandra Fryhofer, board chairwoman of the American Medical Association and an internal medicine physician in Atlanta.

If you have Covid-19 or the flu, there are antiviral drugs for both. But antiviral drugs against flu do not work against Covid-19, and vice versa.

“This will be a confusing season of respiratory infections. Figuring out what makes people sick is going to be a puzzle,” Fryhofer said.

In response to a question about shortages of key drugs during this difficult virus season, Walensky said that “CDC is aware of reports of some shortages of both antiviral drugs and antibiotics across the country. I know the FDA is working … with the manufacturers to try to explore what can be done to address this.”

She also urged doctors not to prescribe antibiotics for diseases caused by viruses.

dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, said he and his colleagues were surprised by the spike in flu cases this season. They also wondered what could be causing it.

He says it’s likely that after two years without much flu activity in the US, we’ve lost some of our immunity against the virus just as the country has returned to more normal patterns of travel and activity.

“Some of it has to do with our behavior in the past, avoiding the flu and now opening up our lives to activities like travel, religious services, family gatherings, going out to party and doing all those things that bring us together,” he said.

Flu shots are good at preventing severe outcomes, he said, but they don’t do much to stop the spread of the virus.

“It keeps you out of the emergency room, the hospital, the intensive care unit and the cemetery. It’s not very good at stopping transmission, and it’s not very good at preventing milder infections either,” he said.

Schaffner says the number of flu hospitalizations is likely to rise because the virus affects older people, who are, on the whole, less protected by vaccination.

“The vaccine works the least among the population we want to protect the most, namely older people, and that’s because they have immune systems that are much less robust than younger people’s immune systems.”

Schaffner noted that there are high-dose vaccines for the elderly, which are preferred for this age group to increase their protection.

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