Low protection flu vaccine warning


Published: Thursday 5th February 2015 by The News Editor

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The flu vaccine issued this winter only provides “low protection” against the main strain of the virus spreading around the UK, health experts have warned.

The vaccine was estimated to work in just 3% of cases in lab tests, compared with a more typical past effectiveness of 50%, Public Health England (PHE) said.

It said the problem was caused by a “mismatch” between the A(H3N2) influenza strain used to make the vaccine and the main A(H3N2) strain that has been spreading around the UK this winter. PHE said recent studies in the US and Canada echoed the findings and linked it to genetic “drift” in the virus.

Deputy chief medical officer John Watson said: “The latest data show that levels of flu are generally decreasing in the UK. We do see ‘drift’ in the flu vaccine from time to time, but even so, I want to reassure people that it is still the best overall way to protect yourself and your family from flu, along with good hand hygiene.

“Antiviral drugs are available and effective, and doctors should prescribe them for those at greatest risk of becoming seriously ill due to flu.”

The findings on the virus’s “mid-season” effectiveness are published today in Eurosurveillance, based on analysis of 1,314 patients.

Study author Dr Richard Pebody, PHE’s head of flu surveillance, said: “The World Health Organization monitors influenza globally and each year recommends the strains of flu virus that should be included in the flu vaccine for the forthcoming flu season. It takes from February through to August / September to produce sufficient quantities of the flu vaccine. If a change in the virus is detected once production has started it is not possible to change it.

“Throughout the last decade, there has generally been a good match between the strains of flu in the vaccine and those that subsequently circulate, so it’s crucial that these results do not discourage people in at-risk groups from having flu vaccination now, or in the future.

“The current vaccine is still expected to protect against flu A(H1N1)pdm09 and flu B – both of which may yet circulate this season, so anyone in an at-risk group should still get vaccinated if they have not already.

“It’s not possible to fully predict the strains that will circulate in any given season, and there is always a risk of a drift occurring as we have seen this year. However, it’s important to be aware that this does not occur every season. Flu vaccine is still the best protection we have against an unpredictable virus which can cause severe illness and deaths each year among at-risk groups, including older people, pregnant women and those with a health condition, even one that is well managed.

“Our findings also mean that the early use of antivirals to treat and help prevent serious cases of flu in vulnerable patients is even more important this season.”

Published: Thursday 5th February 2015 by The News Editor

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