MADISON, Wis. - A recently-released study shows this year's flu vaccine may not be as effective as those of previous years, leading to an active flu season. But a local expert cautions that it's not time to panic and that getting vaccinated is still the best way to protect yourself.
CNN reports a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said last year's vaccine, also had limited effectiveness, at just 42 percent. This was due to a mutation that occurred in the influenza A (H3N2) vaccine strain, the network reports.
According to the study, we could be in for more of the same this year.
Mel Reppen, a nurse epidemiologist at SSM Health, said it's not time to panic and flu season has yet to even hit Wisconsin. Until it does, she said, we won't know how effective the vaccine really is.
"It's very early," Reppen said. "(The season is) just winding down in the Southern Hemisphere and meandering its way into the Northern Hemisphere."
While last year's shot had some effectiveness issues, last year's mild winter led to a late start to flu season in Wisconsin, making for a relatively inactive season, she said.
Reppen said for vaccine-makers, figuring out which strains to put in each year's vaccine is not an exact science, and the strains of the virus spreading during a season don't always match the vaccines distributed to health care professionals before the season begins.
"Virus strains that go into the vaccine are decided very early on in the year," she said.
There's also bad news for those who aren't into needles: This year, the nasal spray vaccine isn't being offered because of questions about its effectiveness, Reppen said.
"(The effectiveness) just doesn't seem to be there and offer the same level of coverage that the flu shot offers," Reppen said.
Reppen said no matter how effective this year's shot is (or isn't), whatever protection it does offer is always better than having no protection at all.
"Bottom line is: get a flu shot," she said.
Reppen said it's not too late to get a flu shot; she said many providers are offering patients the choice between a three-strain shot and a four-strain shot. She said there's no downside to getting the four-strain shot, so the potential for protection against an additional strain of the virus is worth it.
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