Flu vaccine prevented millions from illness last year, CDC says


Ja’nia Lovett, 6, lies in a bed in the Emergency Department at Children’s Hospital of Georgia and grimaces as Dr. James Wilde swabs her nose for a rapid flu test.


“It’s going to tickle some,” Wilde said.

About 15 minutes later, her test is negative but “that does not mean it’s not flu,” Wilde said. People who have the flu can still have a negative result.”

Ja’nia looks miserable either way, despite getting her flu shot this year.

While it may not have turned out very well for the first-grader at Sue Reynolds Elementary School, getting a flu shot last flu season paid off for millions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. Using data from last year and sophisticated modeling, the flu shot prevented 79,000 additional hospitalizations to go along with the 381,000 who were hospitalized.

It also prevented 6.6 million from getting sick and 3.2 million from seeking medical treatment for flu, CDC Director Thomas Frieden said.

These results came despite less than half – 44 percent – of the population getting the shot, according to the report in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Vaccine effectiveness also varied widely by age, from 58 percent effective in children ages 6 months to four years to 32 percent effective in those ages 65 and up. Overall, last flu season was “pretty tough” but if vaccination could have reached 70 percent overall, it would have prevented another 4.4 million cases and another 30,000 hospitalizations, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at CDC.

“We’re really keen to take the available tools and do even better in the next year,” she said.

Liz Harris, 42, said she got her flu shot in September but still started feeling bad Sunday and was diagnosed with flu Wednesday at a University Hospital Prompt Care. One sign flu might be spreading in the area is that she was unable to fill a prescription for Tamiflu because every pharmacy she tried was out. Health officials have said getting the shot means the symptoms are likely to be less severe if you get sick. Harris said she isn’t quite sure she believes that.

“I wouldn’t want to know what it feels like to be worse than I am,” she said.

The children’s hospital is not yet ready to declare that flu season has arrived and that is why it is using the rapid test on those with flu-like illness, Wilde said. Once it gets several positive tests in a day, it will switch to the CDC’s protocol of treating high-risk patients with flu-like symptoms with antivirals, Wilde said.



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