Flu Shot Did Poor Job of Protecting Elderly

A U.S. government study of this season’s flu vaccine suggests it was effective in only 56 percent of people who got the shot, and it largely failed to protect the elderly against an especially deadly strain circulating during flu season.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the findings underscore the need for more effective weapons in the fight against influenza, which kills between 3,000 and 50,000 people in the United States each year depending on the severity of the flu season.

Experts generally estimate the effectiveness of flu vaccines to be between 50 percent and 70 percent, but this vaccine appears to have fallen on the low side of that range.

The protective benefits of the vaccine against influenza B were consistent across age groups, protecting 67 percent of those who were vaccinated. That was not the case with the influenza A (H3N2) component of the vaccine, which protected 46 percent to 58 percent of people aged 6 months to 64 years, but only 9 percent of those 65 and older.

It is clear that elderly people who get sick with flu symptoms should seek treatment with antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu, which can reduce the severity of their illness.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and pharmaceutical companies are working to produce better flu vaccines.

Although it’s far from perfect, flu vaccination is by far the best tool we have to protect people from the flu.

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