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Only 23 Percent Protection From This Year's Flu Vaccine

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Mon, Jan 19, 2015 @ 12:42 PM

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U.S. health officials have hard numbers to back up their warnings that this season's flu shots are less than perfect: A new study finds the vaccine reduces your risk of needing medical care because of flu by only 23 percent.

Most years, flu vaccine effectiveness ranges from 10 percent to 60 percent, reported the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Despite the reduced effectiveness of this season's flu shot, "vaccination is still important," said lead report author Brendan Flannery, an epidemiologist with the CDC.

"But there are ways of treating and preventing flu that are especially important this season," he added. 

These include early treatment with antiviral drugs and preventing the spread of flu by washing hands and covering coughs, he said. 

Twenty-three percent effectiveness means that there is some benefit -- a little less flu in the vaccinated group. Flu is usually more common among unvaccinated Americans, Flannery said, "but this year there is a lot of influenza both in people who are vaccinated and in people who are unvaccinated."

The findings are published in the Jan. 16 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

As of early January, the middle of flu season, flu was widespread in 46 states, and 26 children had died from complications of the infection, CDC figures show. 

The vaccine's reduced effectiveness highlights the need to treat serious flu quickly with antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu or Relenza, the CDC said. Ideally, treatment should start within 48 hours of symptoms appearing.

Spot shortages of these drugs have been reported, and the CDC said that people may have to contact several pharmacies to fill these prescriptions. However, it anticipates enough supply overall to meet the high demand. 

In flu seasons when the vaccine is well matched to the circulating H3N2 strains, effectiveness has been between 50 and 60 percent, the CDC said. This year, however, about 70 percent of the H3N2 virus seen has been different from the H3N2 strains in the vaccine, which explains its reduced effectiveness, Flannery said.

Flu viruses change constantly, and this new H3N2 virus did not appear until after the flu strains were chosen for inclusion in the current vaccine, he explained.

Vaccine effectiveness is also related to the health of those getting vaccinated. The vaccine works best in young, healthy people, and is less effective in those 65 and older, the report noted.

This year's shot is most effective -- 26 percent -- for children 6 months old through 17 years. Older people get less benefit -- just 12 percent for those 18 to 49 years and 14 percent for those 50 and older, the CDC said.

Although the vaccine is less reliable than in some years, the CDC still recommends that everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated. Vaccination can prevent some infections and reduce severe disease that can lead to hospitalization and death, the agency said. 

Also, the vaccine protects against three or four flu viruses, some of which may circulate later this season, Flannery said. 

Dr. Marc Siegel, a professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, agreed. As other flu strains included in the vaccine emerge later in the season, he predicted the vaccine's effectiveness will rise to about 40 percent. 

Flu activity so far this season has been similar to the 2012-2013 flu season, which was classified as a "moderately severe" flu, officials say. Siegel said that season "the vaccine's effectiveness was about 40 percent, so this is even worse." 

However, he agreed it's a good idea to get a flu shot. "Twenty-three percent is better than nothing, and there is no downside to getting the vaccine," Siegel said.

Source: www.nlm.nih.gov

Topics: flu, flu shot, symptoms, clinic, antiviral, nurse, CDC, medical, hospital, vaccine, treatment, shots

Last year's flu season wound up on the mild side, CDC says

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Wed, Jun 11, 2014 @ 01:00 PM

By KAREN KAPLAN

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Another influenza season is in the books, and overall it caused less sickness and death than flu seasons in the recent past, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between Sept. 29, 2013, and May 17, 2014, a total of 53,471 specimens sent to U.S. labs tested positive for a flu virus. Among them, 87% were influenza A viruses, and the most common of these were versions of the H1N1 virus that prompted the swine flu epidemic in 2009. The other 13% of the confirmed specimens were influenza B viruses.

The CDC findings, which were published Thursday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, did not estimate a total number of flu deaths for the 2013-14 flu season. But based on records kept by doctors and hospitals, researchers concluded that flu activity in the last year resulted in “lower levels of outpatient illness and mortality” compared with years when the predominant strains were versions of the H3N2 virus.

At least 96 children died of the flu in the last year, laboratory tests confirmed. Those deaths were reported in 30 states, New York City and Chicago. In about half of these cases, the patients had at least one preexisting condition, such as a neurologic disorder or a pulmonary disease, that may have made them more vulnerable to the flu.

The most striking statistic in the report is the rate of hospitalization among people between the ages of 50 and 64. Over the course of the entire flu season, the cumulative hospitalization rate for these adults was 54.3 per 100,000 people. In the previous four years, that figure has been as low as 8.1 and it never topped 40.6.

The report noted one human case of a H3N2 virus that was first spotted in pigs in 2010 and was identified in a dozen people the following year. The new case was a child from Iowa who had direct contact with pigs. The patient fully recovered, apparently without spreading it to relatives or anyone else, according to the CDC.

The vaccine for the 2014-15 flu season will be based on the same four viruses, the CDC said.

Source: latimes.com

Topics: flu, virus, CDC, vaccine

5 flu vaccines that could shake up the influenza prevention market

Posted by Alycia Sullivan

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 @ 03:34 PM

by 

describe the imageAs people in towns and cities across the U.S. feel the clammy grip of the flu epidemic, several biotechnology startups and Big Pharma companies are using innovative technology to develop different approaches to combating influenza and developing vaccines to combat multiple flu strains. Here are five of them:

Nasal spray: NanoBio Corp‘s flu vaccine is a nasal spray designed to offer short-term infection prevention and reduce transmission of the virus between humans. It uses nanoemulsion technology to develop a seasonal flu vaccine nasal spray. Currently in phase 2 development, the technology uses an oil-in-water emulsion to rapidly penetrate through pores and hair shafts to the site of an infection, and physically disrupt the outer membrane of pathogenic organisms by fusing with the invading flu virus and killing it before infection occurs. It would be used at times when there is a high risk of exposure such as air travel, a pediatrician’s office visit, hospital or any situation where groups of people congregate, according to the company’s website.

Combating more strains: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved GlaxoSmithKline’s quadrivalent vaccines last month. The vaccines contain two influenza A strains and two influenza B strains to potentially help broaden protection against seasonal influenza. It is approved for use in children 3 years of age and older. Current flu vaccines generally protect against three strains of influenza: two A strains and one B strain.

Universal vaccines: Biotechnology startup Visterra is developing a monoclonal antibody for universal flu vaccine VIS410 that could not only cover the three most common seasonal strains the widely available flu vaccines protect against, but also more deadly strains like the H1N1 variation.

Cross-strain protection: Inovio is developing a universal flu vaccine that would induce both preventive antibody and T-cell immune responses for cross-strain protection against known and new, unmatched viruses. It could be especially helpful for the elderly who are among those most vulnerable to contracting the flu. It is developing a seasonal flu vaccine as well as one that could combat a pandemic.

Egg alternative: One problem with flu vaccines on the market is that they are developed from fertilized chicken eggs, which makes them off limits to those with egg allergies. A new seasonal flu vaccine from Novartis using cultured animal cells won FDA approval in November. It will be marketed under brand name Flucelvax.

Topics: flu, flu vaccines, FDA, Visterra, Novartis, Flucelvax

Hospitals Crack Down on Workers Refusing Flu Shots

Posted by Alycia Sullivan

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 @ 01:43 PM

fluPatients can refuse a flu shot. Should doctors and nurses have that right, too? That is the thorny question surfacing as U.S. hospitals increasingly crack down on employees who won't get flu shots, with some workers losing their jobs over their refusal.

"Where does it say that I am no longer a patient if I'm a nurse," wondered Carrie Calhoun, a longtime critical care nurse in suburban Chicago who was fired last month after she refused a flu shot.

Hospitals' get-tougher measures coincide with an earlier-than-usual flu season hitting harder than in recent mild seasons. Flu is widespread in most states, and at least 20 children have died.

Most doctors and nurses do get flu shots. But in the past two months, at least 15 nurses and other hospital staffers in four states have been fired for refusing, and several others have resigned, according to affected workers, hospital authorities and published reports.

In Rhode Island, one of three states with tough penalties behind a mandatory vaccine policy for health care workers, more than 1,000 workers recently signed a petition opposing the policy, according to a labor union that has filed suit to end the regulation.

Why would people whose job is to protect sick patients refuse a flu shot? The reasons vary: allergies to flu vaccine, which are rare; religious objections; and skepticism about whether vaccinating health workers will prevent flu in patients.

Dr. Carolyn Bridges, associate director for adult immunization at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says the strongest evidence is from studies in nursing homes, linking flu vaccination among health care workers with fewer patient deaths from all causes.

"We would all like to see stronger data," she said. But other evidence shows flu vaccination "significantly decreases" flu cases, she said. "It should work the same in a health care worker versus somebody out in the community."

Cancer nurse Joyce Gingerich is among the skeptics and says her decision to avoid the shot is mostly "a personal thing." She's among seven employees at IU Health Goshen Hospital in northern Indiana who were recently fired for refusing flu shots. Gingerich said she gets other vaccinations but thinks it should be a choice. She opposes "the injustice of being forced to put something in my body."

Medical ethicist Art Caplan says health care workers' ethical obligation to protect patients trumps their individual rights.

"If you don't want to do it, you shouldn't work in that environment," said Caplan, medical ethics chief at New York University's Langone Medical Center. "Patients should demand that their health care provider gets flu shots - and they should ask them."

For some people, flu causes only mild symptoms. But it can also lead to pneumonia, and there are thousands of hospitalizations and deaths each year. The number of deaths has varied in recent decades from about 3,000 to 49,000.

A survey by CDC researchers found that in 2011, more than 400 U.S. hospitals required flu vaccinations for their employees and 29 hospitals fired unvaccinated employees.

At Calhoun's hospital, Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village, Ill., unvaccinated workers granted exemptions must wear masks and tell patients, "I'm wearing the mask for your safety," Calhoun says. She says that's discriminatory and may make patients want to avoid "the dirty nurse" with the mask.

The hospital justified its vaccination policy in an email, citing the CDC's warning that this year's flu outbreak was "expected to be among the worst in a decade" and noted that Illinois has already been hit especially hard. The mandatory vaccine policy "is consistent with our health system's mission to provide the safest environment possible."

The government recommends flu shots for nearly everyone, starting at age 6 months. Vaccination rates among the general public are generally lower than among health care workers.

According to the most recent federal data, about 63 percent of U.S. health care workers had flu shots as of November. That's up from previous years, but the government wants 90 percent coverage of health care workers by 2020.

The highest rate, about 88 percent, was among pharmacists, followed by doctors at 84 percent, and nurses, 82 percent. Fewer than half of nursing assistants and aides are vaccinated, Bridges said.

Some hospitals have achieved 90 percent but many fall short. A government health advisory panel has urged those below 90 percent to consider a mandatory program.

Also, the accreditation body over hospitals requires them to offer flu vaccines to workers, and those failing to do that and improve vaccination rates could lose accreditation.

Starting this year, the government's Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is requiring hospitals to report employees' flu vaccination rates as a means to boost the rates, the CDC's Bridges said. Eventually the data will be posted on the agency's "Hospital Compare" website.

Several leading doctor groups support mandatory flu shots for workers. And the American Medical Association in November endorsed mandatory shots for those with direct patient contact in nursing homes; elderly patients are particularly vulnerable to flu-related complications. The American Nurses Association supports mandates if they're adopted at the state level and affect all hospitals, but also says exceptions should be allowed for medical or religious reasons.

Mandates for vaccinating health care workers against other diseases, including measles, mumps and hepatitis, are widely accepted. But some workers have less faith that flu shots work - partly because there are several types of flu virus that often differ each season and manufacturers must reformulate vaccines to try and match the circulating strains.

While not 100 percent effective, this year's vaccine is a good match, the CDC's Bridges said.

Several states have laws or regulations requiring flu vaccination for health care workers but only three - Arkansas, Maine and Rhode Island - spell out penalties for those who refuse, according to Alexandra Stewart, a George Washington University expert in immunization policy and co-author of a study appearing this month in the journal Vaccine.

Rhode Island's regulation, enacted in December, may be the toughest and is being challenged in court by a health workers union. The rule allows exemptions for religious or medical reasons, but requires unvaccinated workers in contact with patients to wear face masks during flu season. Employees who refuse the masks can be fined $100 and may face a complaint or reprimand for unprofessional conduct that could result in losing their professional license.

Some Rhode Island hospitals post signs announcing that workers wearing masks have not received flu shots. Opponents say the masks violate their health privacy.

"We really strongly support the goal of increasing vaccination rates among health care workers and among the population as a whole," but it should be voluntary, said SEIU Healthcare Employees Union spokesman Chas Walker.

Supporters of health care worker mandates note that to protect public health, courts have endorsed forced vaccination laws affecting the general population during disease outbreaks, and have upheld vaccination requirements for schoolchildren.

Cases involving flu vaccine mandates for health workers have had less success. A 2009 New York state regulation mandating health care worker vaccinations for swine flu and seasonal flu was challenged in court but was later rescinded because of a vaccine shortage. And labor unions have challenged individual hospital mandates enacted without collective bargaining; an appeals court upheld that argument in 2007 in a widely cited case involving Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle.

Calhoun, the Illinois nurse, says she is unsure of her options.

"Most of the hospitals in my area are all implementing these policies," she said. "This conflict could end the career I have dedicated myself to."

--

Online:

R.I. union lawsuit against mandatory vaccines: http://www.seiu1199ne.org/files/2013/01/FluLawsuitRI.pdf

CDC: http://www.cdc.gov

 

 

Topics: flu, flu shot, refusal, employees, fired, lawsuit, CDC, hospital, vaccine

Nurse busts top 5 flu myths

Posted by Alycia Sullivan

Fri, Jan 11, 2013 @ 12:33 PM

by 

Video

The flu season is the meanest it has been in a decade. 

In fact, an updated map from the CDC shows the Commonwealth presently in the red zone, which is the highest category for flu cases reported in states.

Nurses at the CVS Minute Clinic said there are some myths about the flu and its vaccine.

  • #1: It is too late to get the seasonal flu shot.
  • #2: The flu shot can give you the flu.
  • #3: If you got the flu vaccine last year, you don’t have to get it again this year.
  • #4: There are serious side effects caused by the flu vaccine.
  • #5: Natural immunity or living a healthy lifestyle is better than getting immunity from the flu shot.

Watch the video above to hear why Nurse Practitioner Anne Pohnert said these are false. 

Topics: flu, myths, nurse, CDC

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