- By John Pacenti Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
The flu vaccine this season is not particularly effective against the predominant virus that has caused record hospitalizations, federal health officials said Friday.
However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are still recommending it because the shot is still effective against other strains, including the one that killed a 12-year-old West Palm Beach boy last week. Also, even if the flu shot doesn’t prevent the illness, it will most likely lessen its severity, experts say.
The CDC reports that 80 percent of the children who died from the flu this season had not been vaccinated.
“This season is turning out to be a particularly challenging one,” said Dr. Dan Jernigan, the CDC’s top flu fighter.
The CDC on its weekly conference call reported 13 more child deaths nationwide due to the flu, bringing the total to 53 since October. Many of these deaths occurred in children with no underlying illness before catching the flu bug. Five children have died from the flu in Florida from three different strains.
Dylan Winnik, an Okeeheelee Middle School student, died Jan. 23 at his home after suffering from the flu for less than 48 hours. The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner said Dylan contracted a type of Influenza B. That strain is particularly vexing Hong Kong and Ireland presently.
But the source of most flu illness is Influenza A (H3N2) and the CDC’s acting director Dr. Anne Schuchat said the current vaccine has proved not particularly effective this season.
“We are seeing hospitalizations higher than ever. We are not out of the woods yet,” Schuchat said.
The current hospitalization rate for the flu is 51 people per 100,000 — the highest since the CDC started keeping the data in 2010.
The reason the predominant strain is beating this year’s vaccine could be that most shots are manufactured in chicken eggs where the virus can mutate. The Palm Beach Post reported the problem with making vaccines in chicken eggs in a November story.
“The flu vaccine is very old tech, but people are very hesitant to move away from it because it is so tried and true even though it is not particularly effective,” said Mike Farzan, a scientist at the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter.
“The flu is incredibly complex and difficult to predict,” Schuchat said.
The flu vaccine is only about 20 percent effective against H3N2, Canadian researchers reported this week.
“This is low protection. And the overall message is: People who have been vaccinated should not consider themselves invincible against this H3N2 virus that’s circulating,” said Dr. Danuta Skowronski, lead author of the Canadian report.
The CDC reported spot shortages of both the vaccine and the anti-viral medication Tamiflu. Schuchat said that it is not unusual that more than one pharmacy visit will have to made to secure the later, which can also be taken as a preventative by those exposed to the flu by a loved one.
In Georgia, a 15year-old girl died from the flu even though a flu test was negative.
Kira Molina, 15, died on Tuesday morning at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta after succumbing to liver failure because of the flu, according to Coweta County Coroner Richard Hawk.
Kira tested negative on Jan. 25 but was found unresponsive in her home three days later.
“It’s such a tragic death. I encourage other people to go get your flu shots,” Hawk said.
Dr. Peter Lamelas, chief of staff of MDNow, said that a false negative flu test is not unusual due to a poor swab, a misreading of the result or when the disease is in the early stages. He said anybody who comes into one of his 33 South Florida clinics with symptoms resembling flu is assumed to have the virus.