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Flu vaccine ineffective for people 65 and older last winter

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Staff Writer |
Flu vaccine
Elderly   The vaccine was well-matched

The flu vaccine did a poor job protecting older Americans against the illness last winter, even though the vaccine was well-matched to the flu bugs going around.


U.S. health officials on Wednesday released new vaccine data showing it did a so-so job overall, Mike Stobbe writes.

The vaccine was about 42 percent effective in preventing illness severe enough to send a patient to the doctor's office. But it was essentially ineffective protecting some age groups.

That includes people 65 and older—the group that's hardest hit by flu, suffering the most deaths and hospitalizations.

The flu season that just ended was a long one that peaked in February and was considered moderately severe.

But the flu-related hospitalization rate for older adults was the highest it's been since the severe 2014-2015 flu season.

Like that season, last winter was dominated by a kind of flu—Type A H3N2—that tends to cause more deaths and serious illnesses than other seasonal flu viruses.

In three of the last seven flu seasons, flu vaccine was essentially ineffective in seniors, according to past studies. The worst performances tend to be in H3N2-dominant seasons.

Health officials say flu vaccine still protects many people. And even if fares poorly against the dominant virus, it can do a good job against other circulating flu strains.

"While it is clear we need better flu vaccines, it's important that we not lose sight of the important benefits of vaccination with currently available vaccines," said Jill Ferdinands, a flu epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a statement.


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