Administration Health Officials Plead: Get Your Flu Shot, It's Going to Get Worse

Get your flu shot, administration officials warned Wednesday–this year’s flu season is on track to reach or exceed the number of deaths, hospitalizations and infections seen in other bad influenza years. And new data shows more precisely the effectiveness of the vaccine, especially for children, a high-risk group.

Get your flu shot, administration officials warned Wednesday—this year’s flu season is on track to reach or exceed the number of deaths, hospitalizations and infections seen in other bad influenza years. And new data shows more precisely the effectiveness of the vaccine, especially for children, a high-risk group.

Administration health officials elaborated on a CDC report during a joint press briefing, saying the vaccine is 36% effective overall against both types of the flu — H3N2 and H3N1. H3N2 is the more severe of the two strains circulating.

Against the H3N2 alone, the vaccine is 25% effective. But in children ages 6 months to 8 years old, that figure increases to 59%.

Both HHS Secretary Alex Azar and US Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, said they had vaccinated all of their children.

“Some protection is better than no protection at all,” said Adams. “To be blunt, a shot can mean the difference between life and death.”

To further make their point, Acting CDC Director Anne Schuchat, said the majority of the children who died from the flu - 3 out of 4 - were not vaccinated.

So far, there have been 63 confirmed influenza-associated pediatric deaths. Of those, 15 were associated with H1N1, 16 were associated with an influenza H3N2, 14 were associated with infection with an influenza A virus for which no subtyping was performed, and 18 were associated with an influenza B virus infection.

The mean age of the reported pediatric deaths reported this season was 7.4 years (range 2 months to 17 years); 40 (63%) of the children died after admission to the hospital.

Among the 56 children with a known medical history, 30 (54%) had at least 1 underlying medical condition which put them at increased risk for influenza-related complications.

The CDC said H3N2 is causing morbidity activity not seen in past years, including the 2009 swine flu pandemic. However, Schuchat said that does not mean that the US is experience a pandemic.

The weekly percentage of outpatient visits has been above the national baseline for 11 weeks. The percentage of outpatient visits rose sharply in late 2017 to 7.7% in early February. This is the highest level of flu activity since the pandemic in 2009, which peaked at 7.7%.

The hospitalization rate was highest among senior citizens, who accounted for 59% of reported influenza-associated hospitalizations.

CDC tracks pneumonia and influenza (P&I)—attributed deaths through the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) Mortality Reporting System. But there is a lag time in reporting the deaths - the percentages of deaths attributed to P&I are released 2 weeks after the week of death to allow for collection of sufficient data to produce a stable P&I mortality percentage.

The CDC said because of that lag, it expects the percentage of pneumonia deaths to climb as more data becomes available

From October 1, 2017, to January 20, 2018, the weekly percentage of deaths attributed to P&I has ranged from 5.8% to 10.1% and has exceeded the epidemic threshold for 5 consecutive weeks.

At the start of the briefing, Azar expressed sympathy for the victims of the Parkland, Florida mass shooting at a high school Tuesday that left 17 people dead, and said HHS would be focusing on mental health in the weeks ahead.

He also likened getting a flu shot to a “sensible precaution”safety measure, similiar to buckling your child in a seat belt before driving in a car.