Despite a Less-Effective Vaccine, Doctors Still Want You to Get That Flu Shot

Dec 22, 2014

A sign telling customers that they can get a flu shot in a Walgreen store is seen Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014, in Indianapolis.
Credit AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Every year doctors encourage nearly everyone to get a flu shot, but this year the vaccine is less effective and the strain going around is more deadly.

That's leading doctors to be even more vocal when it comes to encouraging people to get the vaccine.

In a typical flu season there are about 10,000 influenza-related deaths nationwide, but this year doctors are predicting 30,000 deaths because of the circulation of the H3N2 strain, which is the cause of  91 percent of illness among flu patients in Pennsylvania. The others were infected with different flu strains.

Even more alarming, this year’s vaccine is not meant for the H3N2 strain.

“So we’ve expected this to be a worse flu season, because of the strain of the virus that’s circulating, because the vaccine is a little less effective than it is in typical years, and in fact we’re seeing in Pennsylvania a real increase in flu activity. I would expect that over the next couple weeks we’ll see a lot more flu,” said John Goldman with PinnacleHealth Infectious Disease Associates.

Most flu seasons the vaccine is 70-80 percent effective, but this year’s vaccine is about 20 percentage points less effective, but that does not mean you should avoid getting a shot.  

“Although this year’s flu shot is less effective, if we would vaccinate a significantly higher number of people, the overall effectiveness would improve. So the more people we vaccinate, especially when the vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective, the better off we will be,” said Emergency Medical Physician Todd Fijewski with Uniontown Hospital Emergency.

As of Dec. 13 in Pennsylvania, 2,175 people had been diagnosed with the flu, of those 365 have been in Allegheny County. That's more than double any other county’s reported cases. Four people have died in Pennsylvania this flu season.

Also the doctors say that if you so get vaccinated your chances of having severe symptoms, being hospitalized or dying are still decreased. The vaccine takes about 2-3 weeks for your body to have full immunity supplied by the vaccine — just in time for the peak of flu season.