Health officials are strongly urging the public to get inoculated against the flu, despite news reports that vaccine being given this year may not be as effective as previously thought. Jacquelyn Martin AP
Health officials are strongly urging the public to get inoculated against the flu, despite news reports that vaccine being given this year may not be as effective as previously thought. Jacquelyn Martin AP

Durham County

Why you should still get a flu shot this season.

By Cliff Bellamy

cbellamy@heraldsun.com

December 06, 2017 04:44 PM

DURHAM

If you have not yet received your flu shot, health officials are still strongly urging you to get inoculated, despite news reports that the flu vaccines being given this year may not be as effective as previously thought.

“No doubt, getting vaccinated is always better than not getting vaccinated,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Vaccines still can help to “blunt” the effect of the flu, Fauci said in a phone interview.

Flu vaccines are always “kind of a gamble,” said Pam McCall, a registered nurse and director of nursing with the Orange County Health Department. “There may not always be a 100 percent match between the vaccines and the viruses that are circulating,” McCall said.

Even without a total match, the vaccines can help prevent more severe flu symptoms. “If it’s not a total match, you might get a milder case if you get the flu after getting the vaccine,” McCall said. The vaccine may also lessen the severity of the symptoms, she said.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October, if possible. Getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial, and the CDC recommends making vaccinations available throughout the flu season, even into January or later.

Flu season sometimes may last into April or May, so it is not too late to get vaccinated, McCall said.

Durham’s Health Department has had a steady number of people coming to get the vaccines, said Joy Nolan, public health nurse specialist. “The one thing we hear is, I’ve had it before – I don’t want to have it again,” Nolan said. “The majority of our clients would rather have that protection than chance it.”

The reminders come after news reports that the vaccines for the 2017-2018 flu season may not be as effective as originally predicted. The flu vaccines used in Australia during its flu season, similar to those used in the United States, proved only about 10 percent effective, according to reports.

Fauci explained the reasons to WTOP news of Washington, D.C. “What happened is, in the development of the vaccine, as we grow it in eggs, the virus itself mutated a bit, so that there was almost an accidental mismatch purely on the basis of the virus trying to adapt itself to growing in eggs, which is the way you make the vaccine,” Fauci said.

Most influenza vaccines in the United States are produced using chicken eggs, while a few are made in cell culture or by using recombinant DNA technologies, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Fauci and other public health officials still advise people to get the vaccine, particularly those in high-risk groups. High-risk groups include adults 65 and older, and children younger than five, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fauci was one of the authors of a recent paper in the New England Journal of Medicine titled “Chasing Seasonal Influenza — The Need for a Universal Influenza Vaccine.” The paper reported higher flu hospitalizations in Australia, which could translate into less effectiveness in U.S. vaccines against influenza A (H3N2) viruses if they predominate. “This possibility underscores the need to strive toward a ‘universal’ influenza vaccine that will protect against seasonal influenza drift variants as well as potential pandemic strains, with better durability than current annual vaccines,” the paper states.

Cliff Bellamy: 919-419-6744, @CliffBellamy1

How to find a vaccine location

To find a location that offers flu vaccines, visit vaccinefinder.org online.