With This Year's Flu Vaccine, a 'Major Mismatch'

Scientists say vax isn't helping much to prevent infection, but can still fend off serious illness, death
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 17, 2021 8:35 AM CST
With This Year's Flu Vaccine, a 'Major Mismatch'
Seqirus, a leading global supplier of flu vaccines, hosts an employee flu clinic on Oct. 14, 2021, in Summit, NJ.   (Stuart Ramson/AP Images for Seqirus)

Health experts, including those at the CDC, are urging the public to not only get vaccinated against COVID, but also against the flu. New research suggests, however, that one of the main strains of the influenza virus that's now going around has mutated, and that this year's flu vaccine doesn't seem to be doing much to prevent infection. "From our lab-based studies, it looks like a major mismatch," University of Pennsylvania microbiology professor Scott Hensley, who helmed the study, tells CNN.

The research published online Wednesday as a preprint notes that "antibodies elicited by the 2021-2022 Northern Hemisphere influenza vaccine poorly neutralize the new H3N2 strain," the most prominent circulating strain of the four strains that the vaccine protects against. CNN notes that flu efficacy changes yearly, as the vaccine strains are chosen way in advance of flu season, by which time the flu virus may have mutated or seen one strain surge ahead of the others.

Hensley concedes this isn't great news for the vaccine, but that it doesn't mean people should give up on the vaccine altogether. "Studies have clearly shown that seasonal influenza vaccines consistently prevent hospitalizations and deaths even in years where there are large antigenic mismatches," the study notes. This tracks with the CDC's take on the flu vaccine: "While some people who get a flu vaccine may still get sick, flu vaccination has been shown in several studies to reduce severity of illness."

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CNN notes this will prove especially important in a winter where we may see a "double whammy" of flu and COVID cases, possibly leading to strained health-care systems and overburdened hospitals. The Jerusalem Post reports on another "surprising benefit" of the flu vaccine that may sway people to get it, despite these new findings: A study published in October in the Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine journal found that the vaccine slashed cardiac arrhythmias in older patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, by 38%. (More flu stories.)

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