- The Washington Times - Friday, August 13, 2004

ATLANTA (AP) — Last season’s flu shot was effective only about half the time, confirming the concerns of many experts because the vaccine was not an exact match for one of the flu strains making many Americans sick, the government said yesterday.

Even so, “the vaccine still provided some protection and substantial health benefits,” said Dr. Carolyn Bridges, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When the flu vaccine is a closer match to the type of flu circulating, it can be up to 90 percent effective in healthy adults, according to the CDC.

Officials said last season’s level of immunity was fairly typical of other years in which the shot and the threatening virus weren’t a perfect match.

“It’s reassuring to see we are getting some decent effectiveness from the vaccine,” said Dr. Bob Jacobson, professor and chairman of pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic. “Every year we are facing different strains — all of us are hoping to … minimize the illness from year to year.”

He said the findings show the “health benefits are still very real” for getting a flu shot.

The CDC and Colorado health officials studied more than 1,300 people in Colorado — the epicenter of last year’s flu outbreak — including about 300 who were confirmed by lab tests to have the flu. Of those who had the flu, about half had been vaccinated.

Using those data, researchers calculated the vaccine probably worked about 52 percent of the time for healthy adults and 38 percent of the time for those with previous medical conditions.

The study also confirmed that children who have never had a flu shot need two doses for it to be effective, something the CDC has been recommending all along.

Last fall’s flu season began early and hit hard in some regions, causing considerable anguish about the shot’s effectiveness. Health officials were concerned about how much protection the flu shot would provide against the Fujian strain, which emerged in Asia too late to be included in the vaccine formula.

The last time a similar situation occurred was in 1997, and the CDC estimated that the vaccine was about 30 percent to 50 percent protective then.

By the time the 2003-04 flu season ended, the number of cases and deaths was fairly typical for a flu season.


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