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Flu vaccine not perfect this year but 'fairly good match'

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Staff Writer |
Flu vaccine
Public health   A type H3N2 flu strain

It's not perfect, but this year's flu vaccine is a fairly good match for the circulating viruses, U.S. health officials reported.

Overall, the vaccine is 48 percent effective. For the predominant circulating influenza A type H3N2 flu strain, its effectiveness comes in at 43 percent. But it's 73 percent effective against influenza B viruses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The effectiveness is a little bit lower than we would like to see, but it's similar to what we have seen for H3 viruses when the vaccine is a good match for what's circulating," said Brendan Flannery, a CDC epidemiologist.

Indications are that infections are still rising in certain regions of the country, like the Midwest, but declining in others, like the Northwest.

This is shaping up as a moderately severe flu season, he added.

In similar seasons, about 60,000 hospitalizations and about 2,000 deaths were prevented with vaccine effectiveness at about 45 percent, Flannery said.

"So, there are a lot of hospitalizations and deaths prevented when the vaccine is not as perfect as we would like," he noted.

The effectiveness of the vaccine is less than hoped because the H3N2 virus is able to mutate, Flannery explained.

While 40 percent to 50 percent effectiveness may not sound like much, when spread across an entire population, the effect is significant, he said.

"A 50 percent reduction in doctors' visits for flu means less time off work or taking care of a child who is not in school," Flannery said. "A 50 percent reduction in doctors' visits may translate to a similar or greater reduction in more severe outcomes like hospitalizations and complications of flu."

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