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Why the Flu Shot May Fail Us This Year

Flu shot may be less effective this year
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that flu shot you made great pains to schedule this year may not be all that effective after all. One strain of the flu virus has apparently mutated, and the current flu vaccine is powerless to thwart it.

But if you haven't yet gotten the shot, and that news just totally convinced you to skip it, you may want to think twice. The CDC still urges the public to get it—especially the young and elderly—since the vaccine will continue to protect against three or four different strains of the virus, just not the mutated instances of H3N2. The small bit of good news is that only about half of H3N2 cases have mutated, so the vaccine could still protect you if you contract H3N2. Also, getting the vaccine might also offer what's known as cross-protection, meaning that even if you contracted the mutant strain of H3N2, you could get less sick than you would have otherwise.

"Though we cannot predict what will happen the rest of this flu season, it’s possible we may have a season that’s more severe than most," said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It's also important to keep in mind that the flu vaccine isn't always effective as it is. Last winter alone, it was reportedly 50 to 55 percent effective overall—and experts actually cite that as a good rate. Still, this year has has brought health officials a little extra worry, as they fear the mutated strain may lead to more illnesses and deaths in the young and elderly. So far, 91 percent of flu cases have been of the H3N2 strain.

“Flu is unpredictable, but what we’ve seen thus far is concerning,” warned Frieden at a press conference on Thursday.

According to the New York Times, five children have already died from influenza this year alone, and the season has only just begun.

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