The flu vaccine won’t protect you against the H2N3 Influenza A strain that is going around, but doctors and health officials want you to get the vaccine anyway.
In mid-December, the Centers for Disease Control noticed above-average influenza cases in 12 different states. One of those states was Virginia. Today, however, the number of flu outbreak states has grown to 23 and now includes Maryland as well.
Doctors and health officials are urging people to get their flu shot, especially if they work with children, the elderly, or the sick/immunocompromised. However, these same authorities are also admitting that the flu vaccine likely won’t keep you safe from the most virulent strains of the illness. The reason is that the H2N3 virus wasn’t included in this year’s flu vaccine.
The flu vaccine, like any other vaccine, works by deliberately subjecting your body to weakened strains of the virus. When these strains are introduced into your body, your immune system quickly defeats them and then remembers how to defeat the virus in case it ever shows up again. In a typical year, the flu vaccine only has a 50-50 chance of keeping you healthy. Make no mistake, the vaccine has a 99 percent chance of protecting you against strains that were included in the dosage. But not all strains make it into the vaccine because, well, a lot of them didn’t even exist when the vaccine was made. Since the influenza vaccine was designed, manufactured, and distributed, the virus has mutated. Those mutations are more significant some years than others. But since the virus is always mutating, it is impossible to truly cover all influenza strains in a vaccine.
In Australia, health officials have noticed that this year’s influenza vaccine is only proving to be about 10% effective. That means that nine out of every ten people who received the flu vaccine ultimately came down with influenza, not because the vaccines failed, but because they came into contact with the new H2N3 strain that wasn’t in their dosage. Since the United States is using the same vaccine this year, health officials are expecting similar results.
This has led many to advocate skipping the flu vaccine all together this year. However, officials are warning that even if the vaccine is less effective this year than normal, it is still important that you get the vaccine.
First of all, there is no out-of-pocket cost as long as you carry health insurance. The flu vaccine is considered “preventative care” under the Affordable Care Act, meaning that health insurance companies must cover 100 percent of the cost.
But most importantly, even if the vaccine does not cover all strains, it is important to protect yourself (and others) from the strains that are included in the vaccine. Believe it or not, flu vaccines aren’t really about keeping you safe. Like all other vaccines, the goal of the flu vaccine is herd immunity.
There are many people in our society who are particularly vulnerable to the flu. An illness that gives you the sniffles could kill them. By getting the vaccine, healthy people are protecting the vulnerable.
If you’re going to get the H2N3 influenza strain this year, then no, the vaccine won’t protect you. You’ll get it either way. But the vaccine can stop you from falling ill to one of the included strains and then infecting someone who is extra vulnerable to the illness. Given that it costs nothing for insured individuals to get the vaccine, health officials say that it is still worth it to get it.
What about you. Did you get the vaccine this year? Did you get the flu? Let us know in the comment section below.