There’s a rumor mill surrounding this year’s flu shot. You might have heard reports saying it’s only 10 percent effective at protecting against the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that’s not exactly true.
It all comes down to Australia’s flu season. Scientists study their season because it comes about six months earlier than ours, and can help predict what Americans might expect.
Last year, the Australian flu season was severe. Officials there reported low vaccine effectiveness against the most common strain of the virus, H3N2.
It’s a nasty form of the flu, especially for older people and little kids.
“The 10 percent [statistic] that a lot of people are are kicking around is against one type of flu,” said Brendan Flannery, an epidemiologist with the CDC influenza division, of H3N2.
But when it came to overall effectiveness against any of the multiple strains of flu, the vaccine worked about 30 percent of the time.
“For people who haven’t been vaccinated, if they’re looking at reports from Australia and saying, ‘Well, the vaccine was not very effective against H3N2 virus in Australia,’ that’s not a good reason to skip the shot,” Flannery said. “One of the reasons CDC recommends vaccination is that it still may provide protection against other influenza viruses — against influenza B viruses, against the H1N1 virus.”
While many cases of that nasty H3N2 virus have already been noted this flu season, it’s better to get the shot because there’s no guarantee that one strain will predominate for the whole season.
“We’ve seen seasons where one influenza virus will sort of circulate or predominate in the beginning of the season, and then we’ll see a later wave of a different type,” Flannery said.
So the message from the CDC is still clear — get a flu shot. If you get sick, go to the doctor and try to get antiviral medication.