As we head into the depths of flu season, we are hearing over and over the need to get the flu vaccine, but some experts warn this year’s flu season could be a bad one and this year’s vaccine might not be very effective.
So far flu activity across the country is still pretty low according to the Centers for Disease Control. Here in Tennessee it is sitting at the lowest level.
Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan says they are tracking it and have seen some flu activity, but it typically peaks in February.
“We’re encouraging everybody to get vaccinated before those numbers get higher, because it takes some time for your body to develop immunity,” she said.
A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine says this year’s flu shot may only be about 10 percent effective based on Australia’s flu season.
“Looking at the viruses circulating in other places and saying we think this is what’s going to be in it and so then they choose two influenza A type viruses and two B types,” Buchanan said.
That study is pushing for a more universal flu shot to be developed because right now the effectiveness of it varies year to year as it tries to keep up with whatever strain we might see.
“Even in a really good year, the flu vaccine is only about 40 to 60 percent effective,” Buchanan said.
However, health officials say any percentage is at least some protection against the flu, and they say they have seen proven results.
In the 2015-2016 flu season, the CDC estimates 5 million flu illnesses were prevented, 2.5 million medical visits were prevented, and 71,000 hospitalizations were prevented.
“Even though it’s not perfect prevention, it is prevention and everybody needs to get the flu shot,” Buchanan said.
Besides getting the flu shot, health officials say the other two best things you can do to stay healthy are washing your hands and staying home if you are sick.