Why You Should Still Get Your Flu Shot

You may have seen some alarmist headlines over the past few days proclaiming that this year’s flu shot doesn’t work and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention are apologizing for its ineffectiveness.

However, we’re here with the facts about the CDC’s recent press release and what it really means.

If This Year’s Flu Shot Isn’t 100% Effective, Why Should I Get One?

How the Flu Shot Works

The flu shot is never 100% effective, nor does the CDC ever claim it is. The only way a completely effective flu vaccine could be created is if someone knew with total certainty what strains of the flu would be dominant in the previous year and any mutations or “antigenetic drifts” these strains would undergo.

Basically, each year the flu shot is created to target the influenza viruses that experts from the CDC, World Health Organization, and other global health organizations agree will dominate during the following season. Usually, this determination is made by studying recent flu seasons around the world; by February, the health organizations agree on the composition of the flu shot, and production begins to ensure that there is enough flu vaccine ready for the upcoming season. Trivalent flu shots, the traditional vaccine, target three flu strains, including a H1N1 strain, a H3N2 strain, and an influenza B virus. Quadrivalent vaccines protect against four strains of the flu — all of the above and an additional influenza B virus.

Two weeks after you receive your flu shot, your body develops antibodies to help you fight off the flu strains that are targeted by the vaccine. So, if the flu shot doesn’t contain a dominant strain or the strain has mutated, the flu shot may not be as effective as hoped.

What the CDC SaidTest Smartly Labs | Why You Should Still Get Your Flu Shot

Many people are falsely reporting that the CDC has apologized for creating a flu shot that doesn’t work. These headlines are made to get clicks, not to report the actual information released on Thursday, December 4. A simple reading of the CDC’s press release reveals that seasonal H3N2 viruses are the most common flu strain this year, and that about half of the H3N2 viruses analyzed are “drift variants,” meaning they have genetic alterations that make them different from the 2014-15 flu shot. As a result, the flu shot may not be effective against this specific strain of influenza — but this does not mean that it is 100% ineffective against fighting the flu.

Why couldn’t the CDC, WHO, and other experts discover this antigenic H3N2 strain before the flu shot was made? Since the drifted variants were first found in March 2014, production on the flu shot had already began. Only a few of the drifted strains were detected at that time, and it was impossible for the experts to know how dominant they would be once the flu season began.

Why You Should Still Get Your Flu Shot

So why still get your flu shot?

  1. The flu shot may still protect you from the H3N2 virus. Around 50% of this year’s H3N2 viruses have drifted, meaning 50% are still the type targeted in the flu shot. Just like the influenza experts, you can’t 100% predict what flu strains you will come into contact with — and if it’s a non-drifted H3N2 strain, the flu shot can help you fight it. Even if you do come into contact with a drifted strain, getting your flu shot could diminish the effects of the virus, making your symptoms milder. In a comparable flu season (2007-8), the main H3N2 flu virus also drifted, but the flu shot still had a 37% efficacy overall — and 42% efficacy against H3N2 specifically.
  2. The flu shot doesn’t just target one viral strain. Also remember that the flu shot is designed to target 3 or 4 flu strains. Data suggests that this year’s flu shot is still effective against the H1N1 and influenza B viruses targeted. Since these other viral strains may become more widespread as the flu season progresses, arming yourself with the flu shot ups your chances of staying healthy.
  3. This year’s flu season has the potential to be more deadly. Historically, flu seasons dominated by H3N2 viruses have high mortality levels; 2012-13, 2007-8, and 2003-4, the flu seasons with the past decade’s highest death rates, were all H3N2-dominant. The CDC recommends the flu shot, prompt treatment for those at highest risk for flu complications, and preventative health measures to help mitigate the severity of this year’s flu season.

Get Your Flu Shot at Your Local Test Smartly Labs

It’s National Influenza Vaccination Week, the perfect time to get your flu shot!

Head to your local wellness-certified Test Smartly Labs for your flu shot today, particularly if you are among or in close contact with those at highest risk from influenza (kids under 5, adults 65+, pregnant women, and those with chronic health issues like diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and kidney disease). By getting your flu shot and taking other preventative measures, you best prepare to face the virus!

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