Only about half of Americans get a flu shot each season, and this year that’s likely to be a problem. While the 2019-20 flu season may not sicken a record number of people, it will take a toll, and this year children are apparently more vulnerable than most other groups.
This season’s vaccine isn’t perfect, to be sure. It’s been less effective against the Victoria B virus than other strains, and that’s an issue. It’s a problem because B viruses, including Victoria B, are more likely to be dangerous to children than to adults and the elderly. It’s also a problem because the current flu season actually kicked off in July, far earlier than normal. And Victoria B flu has been common early. Normally B viruses appear toward the end of the flu season.
Nearly three dozen children, 32, have died of flu or its complications so far this season (along with some 4,800 adults), and a 4-year-old girl was blinded by something called acute necrotizing encephalopathy, a rare brain disease that generally follows a viral infection. She was in the hospital at the time, being treated for the flu. She had not received a flu shot.
Flu shots are not perfect. Flu viruses change, and change quickly, and it’s difficult to come up with something that provides the kind of protection a measles vaccine provides. Thus a good flu vaccine is effective about 60% of the time, while the standard measles vaccine is effective about 97% of the time after two doses have been given.
The Oregon Public Health Division saw a dip in confirmed flu cases in the week ending Jan. 10, and it’s hopeful the worst may be past, though it’s too soon to tell. That said, there were more than 1,400 cases of flu diagnosed in the state last week, 82.7% of which were caused by B virus.
Even with that positive news, experts encourage us all to get our flu shots without delay. Vaccination can, at the least, mean a lighter illness, and one with fewer complications. Just as important, vaccination helps slow the spread of the flu and all the problems that go with it.