Flu shot less effective than hoped

Whitt Van Tassell

As students return to the erratic weather conditions of Statesboro and their overflowing Georgia Southern University campus, it is important to take the proper precautions as flu season is in full effect, however, this winter, the vaccine’s efficiency has been called into question.

“Even in years where a strain circulates that is not included in the vaccine (such as is the case this year), vaccination can offer some degree of protection,” Dr. Brian DeLoach, Georgia Southern Health Services Director, said. “And keep in mind that each season, while one strain may predominate, other strains are still circulating… we are still recommending vaccination throughout the flu season.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that this season’s influenza vaccine is less effective than previously hoped in their December reports. In samples taken Oct. 1 through Nov. 22, 2014, 52 percent were identified as drifted, or antigenic-ally different, from the Influenza A (H3N2) strain protected against in the vaccine. 

Vaccines help develop an immunity by imitating infection, which do not cause sickness, but does create immunity-boosting T- and B-lymphocytes and antibodies. These sickness fighters differ strain-to-strain, and therefore, lymphocytes developed by a vaccine will be much less effective against a drifted strain of the flu.

11.44 percent of GSU students received the flu shot in the 2013-14 season, a rate roughly one-third of that in the state of Georgia, and 35 percent of the national rate. This reported rate does not include students vaccinated at locations outside of GSU Health Services.

“We would love to vaccinate more… over the past few years we have instituted multiple ‘vaccine clinics’ in various locations on campus, and while we still could vaccinate more,” Deloach says. “These clinics have resulted in an almost 4-fold increase in number of vaccines administered as compared to 5+ years ago.”

In addition to vaccination and personal hygiene, the CDC recommends antiviral medications as part of their three-point health plan. In past years and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, recommended drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza have been shown to alleviate fever, shorten duration of infection and reduce risk of complications when taken at first signs of infection.

If diagnosed with or showing symptoms of the flu, Health Services recommends ample rest accompanied by alternating doses of Tylenol and Motrin to combat fever. Aspirin should not be used, as when combined with the flu, can cause life-threatening complications.

DeLoach cites “the myth that ‘you can get the flu from the flu shot’” as a major barrier to decreasing student flu rates.