Are there things you want to know about the flu and the flu vaccine? If so, you're going to love this article.
I recently had the opportunity to speak one on one with Dr. Carolyn Bridges, the Associate Director for Science in the Influenza Division of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This CDC unit is responsible for a number of tasks, including:
- Year-round influenza surveillance throughout the world
- Coordinating with state and local health departments
- Global decision-making with the World Health Organization (WHO) on flu vaccine content twice a year
- Influenza risk assessments
- Studies of the flu disease burden
- Antiviral resistance research and monitoring
- Improving community and public awareness of the flu and flu prevention
As you can see, the Influenza Division has their hands full. They also maintain a comprehensive mini site about the flu and flu vaccine: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm
You'll find answers to most of your basic questions and concerns there. So, I thought I'd go "a step beyond" and ask Dr. Bridges questions you won't necessarily find on most websites about the flu. Here are my notes from the interview:
Q: How effective is this year's flu vaccine expected to be, in light of last year's less than stellar results?
A: The 2008-2009 flu protection is expected to be much better than last year's. Unfortunately, decisions have to be made on a very tight timeline about what strains of flu virus to include in the vaccine a year in advance of peak flu season, in order to allow time for vaccine manufacturers to make the vaccine. At best, experts have to make educated guesses about what strains of flu virus will be circulating in the coming year. Since a hallmark of flu viruses is their ability to change quickly, it's not an easy task. New strains crop up all the time.
The good news is that the CDC/WHO have been very accurate overall in predicting which flu virus strains to include in the yearly vaccine. 16 out of the last 20 years, the match between prediction and reality has been good. Only once in that time was the prediction totally off, in the 1997-98 flu season. Also good news is that even if the exact strains circulating are not in the vaccine, people who are immunized generally have a fair amount of cross-reactive protection. That means that you'll still be at least partially protected against other circulating viruses, even if not specifically vaccinated against them.