Weaker Flu Vaccine This Season

While this year's flu season is expected to be severe, the vaccine is a relatively poor match for current flu strains.

While this year’s flu season is expected to be severe, the vaccine is a relatively poor match for current flu strains. As a result, next year’s flu vaccine sales could be in jeopardy, according to a new report from Kalorama Information.

Although 91% of the influenza samples tested are of the H3N2 subtype, about half of them are drift variants with antigenic or genetic changes that make them different from the vaccine virus. As a result, the vaccine’s ability to protect against the virus may be reduced, according to the CDC.

“We think this could hurt 2015 vaccine sales, although we can't tell for sure until the numbers are in,” Bruce Carlson, publisher of Kalorama Information, said in a statement. “There are lots of variables—degree of flu severity this season, the extent to which the vaccine doesn't work, how well that is or isn't communicated through the healthcare community & public, and level of pre ordering.”

The CDC is recommending that people still get vaccinated despite the reduced efficacy of this year’s vaccine. Not only can the vaccine still offer some protection against drifted viruses, but it also protects against other flu viruses that could become more common later in the season, according to Joseph Breese, MD, chief of the Influenza Epidemiology and Prevention Branch at the CDC.

Early antiviral treatment also shortens the duration of illness symptoms, reduces the risk of complications from influenza, and reduces the risk of death among hospitalized patients.

“The reality is the vaccine is still improving percentages of those who are vaccinating by removing some of the threats,” Mr Carlson said. “How well that message gets out there and to what degree flu shots are engrained in the culture at the point will determine if the vaccine product can hold up in the face of a weak vaccine. If the message is perceived as 'don't get the shot this year' and retailers stockpile, next year's orders could be in trouble.”