This year’s flu vaccine appears to be “a pretty good match” for the circulating strains, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a news conference on Monday. . However, she noted that flu vaccinations are lagging behind the pace of previous years.
Through the end of October, CDC data shows that vaccinations of pregnant women, a group more vulnerable to severe flu illness, are down about 12% from the same point in 2021.
Vaccination rates for seniors, the age group most likely to be hospitalized with the flu, have declined by about 3 percentage points from October 2021.
Flu vaccinations for children are down about 5% from where they were before the Covid-19 pandemic, Walensky said.
In a typical year, about 60% of American adults are vaccinated against the flu.
The flu season started early and severely in the United States, with hospitalization rates reaching levels not typically seen until December or January.
“Of course, we are reviewing in real time how well we think the flu matches what is circulating right now. The good news is it looks like a really good game,” Walensky said of the early start to the respiratory virus season.
She noted that the CDC would have more definitive data later in the season, but the data is encouraging.
Walensky said that even when the vaccine doesn’t closely match circulating flu strains, “we see a 35% decrease in hospitalization rates…which just highlights, when we have a good match, how it will be more efficient. ”
CDC data shows nearly 20,000 people in the United States were admitted to hospital with influenza during the week of Thanksgiving, nearly double the number of admissions from the previous week.
Covid-19 hospitalizations have also increased, rising 27% in the week after Thanksgiving. But Covid-19 is no longer the only virus weighing on hospitals.
Only 5% of the US population lives in an area considered to have a high community level of Covid-19.
Walensky said Monday that the CDC is “actively considering” expanding its community levels beyond Covid-19 to include the effects of other viruses, such as the flu.
“In the meantime, what I’m saying is that you don’t have to wait for CDC action to put on a mask,” she said.
Sick people should stay home and away from others, practice good hygiene like covering coughs and washing hands frequently, use a high-quality mask and improve ventilation in indoor spaces, Walensky said.
If you get sick, it’s important to get tested, even if you’ve been vaccinated, said Dr. Sandra Fryhofer, chair of the board of directors of the American Medical Association and an internal physician in Atlanta.
If you have Covid-19 or the flu, there are antiviral medications for both. But flu antivirals don’t work against Covid-19, and vice versa.
“It will be a confusing respiratory infection season. Figuring out what makes people sick is going to be a puzzle,” Fryhofer said.
In response to a question about shortages of key drugs during this difficult virus season, Walensky said, “CDC is aware of reports of some of the shortages of antivirals as well as antibiotics across the country. I know the FDA is working…with the manufacturers to try to explore what can be done to address this issue.
She also urged doctors not to prescribe antibiotics for illnesses caused by viruses.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, said he and his colleagues have been surprised by the sharp rise in flu cases this season. They also wondered what could be causing it.
He says it’s likely that after two years of no major flu activity in the United States, we’ve lost some of our immunity to this virus, just as the country has returned to more normal travel and activity patterns. .
“Part of it has to do with our behaviors in the past, having avoided the flu and now opening our lives to activities such as travel, religious services, getting together with families, going out to places of entertainment and doing all those things that take us in groups,” he said.
Flu shots are good at preventing serious consequences, he said, but they do little to stop the spread of the virus.
“It takes you away from the emergency room, the hospital, the intensive care unit and the cemetery. It’s not very good at interrupting transmission, and it’s not very good at preventing milder infection,” he said.
Schaffner says flu hospitalizations are likely to increase because the virus is hitting older people, who, on the whole, tend to be less protected from vaccinations.
“The vaccine works least well among the population we most want to protect, which is older people, and that’s because they have much less robust immune systems than younger people.”
Schaffner noted that there are high-dose vaccines for the elderly, which are preferred for this age group to help boost their protection.
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