Flu Season Strikes Early and Hard as Call Goes Out for a Universal Vaccine

December 4, 2019

Flu is running rampant in 7 states. 

At this time last year, Children's Hospital New Orleans had 9 cases of influenza. This year, the facility has seen more than 1400 cases. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some parts of the country are getting hammered by the flu. The CDC notes that “the amount of influenza activity across the country varies with the south and parts of the west seeing elevated activity while other parts of the country are still seeing low activity.”

CDC categorizes flu activity from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest level. For the week ending November 23, 7 states and Puerto Rico reached that level. At the same point last year, 2 states had. Beside Louisiana, the other states with the highest flu activity are Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

CDC says that the flu caused 573 hospitalizations between October 1 and November 23, about 2 people per 100,000. The highest rate was among adults 65 or older (5.1 per 100,000), children up to 4 years old (3.1 per 100,0000), and adults aged 50-64 (2.0 per 100,000).

CDC wants to the public to know that “it’s not too late to get vaccinated. Flu vaccination is always the best way to prevent flu and its potentially serious complications.”

The agency wants to go further than that, though. In a transcript of testimony he is expected to give to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce today, Anthony Fauci,MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), urges the development of a “universal” flu vaccine. 

“The constantly changing nature of seasonal influenza viruses and the threat of the emergence of a pandemic influenza necessitate the development of broadly reactive or ‘universal’ influenza vaccines that could protect individuals over many years against multiple types of influenza viruses, both seasonal and pandemic,” Fauci states.

In the last 15 years, according to Fauci, the measure of how well flu vaccines have worked to prevent the illness ranged from 10% to 60%. “This rate is lower than that of many other licensed vaccines for common infectious diseases, such as the combined vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella viruses, which has an effectiveness rate of 97% against measles.” 

In his testimony, Fauci notes that NIAID has recently launched the Collaborative Influenza Vaccine Innovation Centers (CIVICs) network “to foster a coordinated, multidisciplinary effort to develop more broadly protective and longer-lasting influenza vaccines. Network researchers will conduct preclinical studies, clinical trials, and human challenge studies to explore approaches to improve seasonal and universal influenza vaccines, such as alternative vaccine platforms or new adjuvants (substances added to vaccines to boost immunity).”

Maybe that will convince more people to get the vaccine. 

A survey by NORC at the University of Chicago says that 37% of Americans aren’t. Those not getting the flu vaccination, for the most part, voiced concerns about possible side effects or belief that it doesn’t work well to prevent illness.

Caitlin Oppenheimer, senior vice president of Public Health Research at NORC, said in a statement that “widespread misconceptions exist regarding the safety and efficacy of flu shots. Because of the way the flu spreads in a community, failing to get a vaccination not only puts you at risk but also others for whom the consequences of the flu can be severe. Policymakers should focus on changing erroneous beliefs about immunizing against the flu.”